The African elephant is the largest land mammal on Earth. There are two species of African Elephant: African savanna, (Loxodonta africana); African forest (Africana cyclotis)
PHOTOGRAPHY: Wildlife in Africa
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Description and Characteristics:
The African Elephant has a marked dip between its fore and hindquarters giving a concave curvature to its back. It’s ears are large and fan-like and are also used to control body temperature; blood circulating through the large vessels in the ears is cooled by flapping. They have acute hearing.
Large tusks are present in both sexes, they first appear at the age of about two and continue to grow throughout their lives. Elephants use tusks for peeling bark off trees, digging for roots, herding young, “drilling” for water and sometimes as a weapon. Skin is up to 2.5 cm thick in places.
The trunk is probably the most fascinating feature of the elephant – it has two prehensile protrusions at the tip (the Asian elephant has only one). It is used for eating, drinking, dust and water bathing, as well as an important form of communication. The trunk also shows the mood of an elephant – it uses it’s trunk to ward off other elephants and intruders and also uses it as a punching or thrusting weapon. An elephant has a strong sense of smell and can locate water by smelling the earth above.
An elephant has very small eyes in relation to its head and has poor eyesight. Elephants form deep family bonds and live in tight social units. A family is led by an older matriarch and typically includes three or four of her offspring and their young. Males tend to leave the family unit between the ages of 12 and 15 and may lead solitary adult lives.
Elephants spend about 16 hours a day eating, their daily intake is between 4 and 7% of bodyweight. Elephants drink up to 160 liters of water per day. A mature elephant can carry up to 6.8 litres of water in its trunk. Their diet is varied and includes grass, leaves, twigs, bark and fruit.
Habitat: Elephants are found, south of the Sahara, in 37 different countries in Africa, but are most popular in Southern and Eastern Africa. Food and water needs to be plentiful.
Size & Lifespan The male elephant is much larger than the female – Male elephants grow up to 3.5m and Females up to 2.7m. Males can weight up 6 tons whilst females up to 2.7 tons. The life expectancy of an elephant is up to 60 years
Reproduction: Elephants do not have any specific mating season. The gestation period for an elephant is 20-22 months. Calves weigh about 120kg at birth and they are born throughout the year. They are weaned at 3-8 years, generally just before the birth of the next calf. A cow can give birth every 3-4 years.
Predators and Threats: Elephants have no natural enemies for they are not a predator themselves and there is none large enough to challenge him. However, their future is threatened by increasing human populations which causes the loss of their natural habitat – plus the continuing ivory trade.
Photo: Kruger National Park, south Africa