African Elephant » Loxodonta Africana » ‘Olifant’
The African elephant is the largest living land animal, renowned for its intelligence, memory, unique communication methods and amazing social behaviour. The heaviest elephant ever recorded weighed an astonishing 12,000 kg but the average elephant weighs about 5,400 kg.
Initially there was thought to be the only two species of the Elephantidae family - the African elephant along with the Asian elephant. Recently a distinction was made between the African Bush Elephant »Loxodonta Africana and the African Forest Elephant »Loxodonta Cyclotis as two separate species (still collectively known as the African Elephant) - which means there are actually three living species of Elephantidae.
In addition to being bigger than the Asian elephant, the African elephant has proportionately larger ears and tusks and a sloping forehead. It also has two “fingers” at the end of its trunk, whereas the Asian elephant has only one. An elephant’s trunk is almost as capable as the human hand yet is remarkably strong - it can delicately pick up a seed pod or tear down a tree branch. They also use it to smell, for communicating with each other and sucking up water for drinking.
Elephant tusks are actually just extremely elongated incisor teeth that keep growing throughout the elephant’s life. Tusks function as multipurpose tools to dig for water, chisel bark off trees and as weapons to defend themselves against aggressors and predators.
Elephants are nocturnal and diurnal, needing to forage for more than 14 hours a day to find a considerable quantity of food – an adult can consume as much as 300 kg in a day! It sleeps for just a few minutes whilst standing. They like to visit waterholes at least once a day to drink, bathe and wallow in mud. Typically, they drink between 70 to 150 litres a day. The elephant that roam the desert areas of the Kaokoveld and Damaraland in Namibia drink once every few days.
Small family groups are led by a matriarch, an older female who has decades of knowledge accumulated from experiencing varying climatic conditions. She usually has other female relatives joining with their collective offspring.
Great places to see elephants:
Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape is home to one of the densest African elephant populations on earth - established in 1931 when only eleven elephants remained in the area. Now there are over 450 elephants descended from these original Cape elephants that are distinctively smaller and often tuskless. Protection from hunting, culling and poaching since the parks establishment has resulted in a remarkably peaceful elephant population - driving through this reserve can be an extremely rewarding experience as there are many youngsters within the herds and the adults don't seem to be bothered by vehicles.
Kruger National Park
Madikwe Game Reserve - accommodation
Many SANParks resorts are great for elephant sighting
- Status: The African elephant has been given a Vulnerable status on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
- When is the best time to spot elephants? Elephants are active during the day and at night, usually resting in shady places during the day. The cooler parts of the day are better and some lodges are frequented by elephant browsing inside the camp area.
- Where do elephants roam? Elephants can cope with a wide variety of habitats – their only requirement is ample food, water and shade. They occur widely in sub-Saharan Africa, mostly as isolated populations in southern African game reserves.
- Where do elephants make their home? Elephants often cover vast distances in their feeding grounds and calves move with the group from their first day. Females have a single calf after 22 months gestation and calves suckle for as much as 3 years. Elephant cows are exceptionally protective of the calves and if a mother dies the other lactating females will take care of the orphan.
AFRICAN ELEPHANT CONSERVATION LINKS
Save the Elephants - Founded by Ian Douglas Hamilton
Our mission is to secure a future for elephants and to sustain the beauty and ecological integrity of the places where they live; to promote man’s delight in their intelligence and the diversity of their world, and to develop a tolerant relationship between the two species.
Wildlife Conservation Society - Information about projects and new techniques for elephant research and monitoring, including forest elephant census methods, aerial videography, genetics, acoustics, and the first satellite telemetry of forest elephants.
Elephant Trust - The Amboseli Trust for Elephants aims to ensure the long-term conservation and welfare of Africa’s elephants in the context of human needs and pressures through scientific research, training, community outreach and public awareness.