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African Elephants

Did you no elephants are the largest living land mammal? It's probably because they spend most of their time eating and taking trunk baths to keep cool. Their oldest known ancestors were pig-like creatures that lived during the Eocene epoch. Today, the African elephant has two subspecies. Some people classify them as vulnerable, others as endangered. Unfortunately these lovely creatures are losing their habitats and being hunted. These rather calm giants are social in the animal world, and rather lucky to the human one.


The elephant's name is Greek based. It descends from "elephas," a word meaning ivory (anonymous f, 7). The elephant is classified under the Animalia Kingdom. It's classification for Phylum is Chordata, and it's Class is Mammalia. It's Order is the Proboscidac, and it is classied in the Elephantidac family. The African Elephant has Loxodant gene classification. It is then classified as the Africana & Cyclotis species (anonymous f, 1). The African elephant also has two subspecies: the savanna and forest elephants (anonymous f, 2).

Today's elephants belong to the Order Proboscidea. Although they are the only living members of the order today, their ancestry is vast and has a very complete fossil record comparatively to other species. They descend from around 300 proboscidean species, the oldest dating back about 55 million years. Over this period of time the various known families have varied in habitat, range, and physical structure. Though fossils have been found in a variety of places around the world, they have not been discovered in Antarctica, Australia, nor a few islands (anonymous f, 5).

The Moeritherium is the oldest known ancestor of the elephant. These small, meter tall, pig like creatures lived during the Eocene epoch. Personally I feel they hardly compare to their modern day relatives. They were quite a bit smaller, and mainly lived in water throughout North Africa. Not to mention they had no trunk, just a skull that suggests an elongated snout. It got it's strange name from the ancient Lake Moeris, which is known today as Lake Qarun (Anonymous f, 6).

Then there was the Barytherium. This family lived about 40-45 million years ago. It is considered to have had two species, one of which was about the size of today's Asain elephant (anonymous f, 8).

After the Barytherium came the Palaeomastodon which lived about 35 million years ago, during the Oligocene epoch. This elephant ancestor was around twice as tall as the Moeritherium and had a structure that closer resembled a trunk (anonymous f, 7). 

Next was the Phiomia, which only stood about two meters tall. They had a pair of tusks in both the top and bottom parts of their jaw. They also had a feature called diploe. These air-filled compartments make the skull lighter in weight (anonymous f, 9).

Several more ancestors of today's elephant include the Deinotherium from the Miocene epoch (anonymous f, 10), the Gomphotheriidae (anonymous f, 11), the Mammut from the Oligocene epoch (anonymous f, 12), the Stegodon from the Pliocene epoch (anonymous f, 13), and the Elephantidae which includes today's Loxodonta and Elephas (anonymous f, 14). All of these had several subspecies. Some, like the Cuvieronius (Dienotherium), lived in North America. Others, like the Anancus (Dienotherium), lived it wooded savannas in Europe (anonymous f, 11).

The first of today's African elephants originated around 1.5 million years ago (anonymous f, 15). The two living species that relate the most to the African and Asian elephants are the manatees (Order Sirenia) and the hyraxes (Order Hyracoidea). They have similar heart structures as well as teeth layout (anonymous f, 16). Although the hyraxes is not as closely related, it has four claws on its front feet and three on the back, just like the elephants toenails (anonymous f, 17). 

Modern day African elephants can be spotted in not only a variety of habitats, but a variety of altitudinal and latitudinal ranges as well. They have been seen way up in the stratosphere on mountain ranges, as well as down near the waves on oceanic beaches. They live in forests, savannas, and grasslands that range anywhere from the northern tropics to the southern temperate zone. They can even be found in the arid deserts of Namibia and Mali (Blanc j 2008, 4).

Each subspecies of the African elephant has it's own habitat preference. The savanna subspecies generally live south of the Sahara in marshes, open grasslands, and on lakeshore (Nair 2012, 4). 
Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and South Africa are some of the more common places to spot the savanna elephant (National zoo 1999, 1).  It's counterpart, the forest subspecies are typically found around central/western Africa in thick rain forests (Nair 2012, 4).

The African elephant is a kind of beautiful ugly animal. They have wrinkled old lady skin and bags under their eyes, but the huge dopy ears are somewhat endearing. The African elephant requires the term long often when being described: long trunk, long tusks, and a long thick tail with a wirey, broom-like end (Lindsay 1997, 4). Compared to Asian elephants, African elephants are larger in size, have bigger ears, and have less hair. Both females and males haves tusks and they have concave backs. At the end of their trunks they have two fingers, whereas Asian elephants only have one (Nair 2012, 2). 

When it comes to size, African elephants are the largest living lands mammals (Nair 2012, 1). As newborns, they only weigh about a hundred kilograms, and are about one meter tall (Nair 2012, 6). When they mature into adults, females are around 3 meters tall, 5.4-6.9 meters long, and they typically weigh anywhere from 3,636- 4,545 kilograms. Adult males are generally 3.64 meters tall at the shoulder, are around 6- 7.5 meters long, and weigh about 5,455- 6,800 kilograms. The African elephants tusks are usually a max length of 2.5 meters and weigh anywhere from 22-45 kilograms.

Oddly, elephants do not have the same number of toenails on their front and back feet. The savanna subspecies has four toenails on it's front feet and three on it's back feet, whereas the forest subspecies has five toenails on it's front feet and four on the back (Nair 2012, 2). They then have 4 molars that are often replaced 6 times throughout the elephants life. When they reach old age, elephants no longer have teeth, and eventually meet a death caused by a lack of food (Shoshani et al 2005, 2).

When comparing the two subspecies, the savanna subspecies is larger than the forest subspecies. The savanna elephants also have tusks that are straighter and thinner, and that curve downward. The savanna subspecies has rounder ears as well (Nair 2012, 2).

African elephants, as suggested by their large, dopy ears, are generally nonaggressive, calm animals (Lindsay 1997, 2). They often use their trunks to hug or greet other members of the herd and even suck on them like a thumb for comfort (Hughes 2012, 1). Also, the trunk is the most sensitive body part an elephant has (Carla et al 2012, 1). They are gentle herbivores that spend more time in search of food than asleep. On a daily basis, an adult African elephant will consume about 140 kilograms of roots, grass, bark and fruit (Nair 2012, 5).

These gentle creatures are known to be very close to one another. It has even been said that they stay with their dead for a few hours and bury them before moving on (Lindsay 1997, 1).

One of the most well known aspects of elephants is their silly way of showering. Often they spend the hotter hours of the day huddled motionless in the shade. When it's time to cool down, they head down to a near bye body of water, take a huge gulp of water up their trunks, and blow it up (Lindsay 1997, 3). A combination of this huge spit shower followed by a roll in the mud is pretty much the bees knees for elephants (Lindsay 1997, 1). 
An African elephant's life typically spans about 60 years. For the girls, this means growing up in a herd of about 10 adult females and their young. This herd is monitored by the largest, oldest female: the matriarchal head. When these girls reach age 10, they are ready to breed. After a gestation period of 22 months, the longest pregnancy of any animal, a female can produce a calf every four years. They typically mate during the rainy season (Hughes 2012, 2). The female elephant is also capable of having twins (Allen 2012, 1). For males it's simple, hit puberty at 13 and then go off on your own (Nair  2012, 6).

Elephants are usually in pretty close proximity to each other. When they get a little more distanced, they communicate through a variety of sounds: moans, growls, trumpets, and rumbles. They are also capable of communicating through low frequency sounds that are absorbed through the feet and trunk. These frequencies can be picked up by elephants a mile away (Nair 2012, 7). This is useful for elephants because they are considered "social mammals." Therefore, it is important for them to be aware of the other members of their species (Bates et al 2012, 2).

Elephants are a very important species. Although some people believe a growing population would not be beneficial to the environment, as of right now they are quite helpful. The fact that they are social and interact with other species is beneficial in itself. Apart from that they also alter the food and vegetation around them and add nutrients to the soil (Fullman 2012, 1).

The survival status of these lovely animals is a tad controversial. According to the IUCN Red list, they were considered vulnerable from 1986- 1994, endangered in 1996, and then vulnerable again as of 2004 (Blanc j 2008, 2). Considering there were 1.3 million in the 1970's and only 690,000 as of 2007, I'd personally say they are clearly endangered. The cause is a loss of habitat and poaching (Nair 2012, 1). The sport of hunting elephants is completely grotesque yet legal in some areas (Blanc j 2008, 6), and there is a large amount of hunting for ivory. Another cause is deforestation and a growing population which limits habitat space. Also, there is drought which causes the deaths of young (Nair 2012, 8). Sadly, many people hunt and kill elephants for their beautiful tusks, and because of these combined reasons, there are only an estimated 600,000 African elephants left in the wild (Lindsay 1997, 1).

A test was recently conducted to see how well elephants keep track of one another. The experiment involved the urine of both kin and unrelated females to me mixed with earth. This was used to see if elephants could identify members of their family or herd. The experiment followed a strict guideline. The urine had to be fresh and placed a certain distance from the incoming herd. The results of this controlled experiment showed that 17 females were recognized and around 30 family members were also recognized (Bates et al 2012, 1).

Another test that was recently conducted was meant to see how elephant herds grouped together. It showed that often elephants will regroup, creating either larger groups or splitting apart. The experiment showed that although females always stay with their eldest female, two herds may "fuse" if the leaders were relatives (Archie et al 2012, 1).
A third recent experiment was conducted to see how elephants acted socially in a novel environment. The results showed that the social aspect was good for them. The elephants did not socialize with the current residents as much as expected, but rather with their own familiar species (Wollman et al 2012, 1).

When it comes to something personal, I've only seen an elephant up close and personal a say few times at the zoo. They are marvelous animals and have always been one of my favorites. It just so happens that it is the Santiago dance team coach's absolute favorite animal. Early in the season it became our lucky charm (even though we are the sharks) and we soon developed a little ritual. For every routine we had, each dancer would have to touch the coaches elephant necklace only moments before walking on. It was a small thing at first, but soon the assistant coach had her own elephant necklace. Then came the coaches phone case that had not one, but two elephants on it. Yes, each routine and every competition we had to touch them all before walking on. Come time for nationals, we had build up quite the collection of elephants: 2 necklaces, 1 bracelet with 13 elephants on it, a phone case with 2, and even a ring. It must have been worth something though, because after going through that entanglement of hands trying to touch each and every elephant before walking on stage, we did win first at nationals. I now sleep with a mini jade elephant on my bedside table, and I have no doubt the collection will grow next season.


Although these magnificent creatures are the largest living land mammals, they are gentle and social herbivores. Their oldest known ancestors resembled a pig and didn't technically have a trunk. The African elephant has two subspecies and is considered either vulnerable or endangered.
This silly animal loves a nice shower on a hot day followed by a roll in the mud. Living till about 60, they are extremely lovable, and rather lucky.
1. Allen, 2012; "Ovulation, pregnancy, placentation and husbandry in the African elephant (Loxodonta africana)" 2012.html

2. Archie et al, 2012; "The ties that bind: genetic relatedness predicts the fission and fusion of social groups in wild African elephants" et al 2012.html

3. anonymous f f.html

4. Bates et al, 2012; "African elephants have expectations about the locations of out-of-sight family members" et al 2012.html

 5. Blanc j, 2008; "Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family" j, 2008.html

6. Carla et al, 2012 et al, 2012.html

7. Fullman, 2012; "Current Research", 2012.html

8. Hughes, 2012 2012.html

9. Lindsay, 1997 1997.html

10. Nair, 2012; "Endangered African Elephant", 2012.html

11. national zoo, 1999; "African Elephants" zoo, 1999.html

12. Shoshani et al, 2005; "African Bush Elephant, Loxodonta africana
Conservation status" et al, 2005.html

13. Wollman et al 2012;"The relationship between social behaviour and habitat familiarity in African elephants (Loxodonta africana)" et al, 2012.html