African Elephant

Scientific name: Loxodonta africana

African elephant - Loxodonta africana
African elephant - Loxodonta africana. Photo © Lynn Amaral / Shutterstock.

African elephants (Loxodonta africana), also known as African bush elephants or African savanna elephants, are the largest living land mammal. African elephants have a large head, large ears, and a long muscular trunk. The two front incisors of African elephants grow into large tusks that curve forward. Tusks are present in both male and female African elephants. The African elephant's trunk has two fingerlike outgrowths, one at the top edge of the tip and another on the bottom edge.

These outgrowths, also called proboscides, enable the elephant it to pick up small objects and strip leaves from trees.

African elephants, like most elephants, require a great deal of food to support their large body size. They can eat up to 350 pounds of food each day and their foraging can drastically alter the landscape. The African elephant's predators include lions, hyenas, and humans.

The basic social unit in African elephants is the maternal family unit. Sexually mature males also form groups while old bulls are sometimes solitary. Large herds can form, in which the various maternal and male groups mix.

African elephants are classified as vulnerable by the IUCN. The main threats facing African elephants are hunting and habitat destruction. The species is targeted by poachers who hunt the elephants for their valuable ivory tusks.

African elephants are herbivores. They feed on plant material such as grasses, buds, fruits, leaves, roots and bark.

African elephants reproduce sexually. Females become sexually mature between the ages of 12 and 14 years. Pregnancy is 22 months long and is timed so that calves are born during the rainy season when food is plentiful. When born, calves are large and mature slowly. Since calves require much care as they develop, only one calf is born at a time and females only give birth about once every five years.

In captivity, elephants breed poorly or not at all.

African elephants once inhabited a range that stretched from the southern Sahara Desert to the southern tip of Africa and reached from the west coast of Africa to the Indian Ocean. Today, African elephants are restricted to small pockets in southern Africa.

Elephants closest living relative are manatees. Other close relatives to elephants include hyraxes and rhinoceroses. Although today there are only two living species in the elephant family, there used to be some 150 species including animals such as Arsinoitherium and Desmostylia.

Size and Weight

About 13 to 16 feet long and 4⅜-7¾ tons


African elephants are classified within the following taxonomic hierarchy:

Animals > Chordates > Vertebrates > Tetrapods > Amniotes > Mammals > Elephants > African Elephant

African elephants are traditionally considered to be one of two species of elephants, the other being the Asian elephant. Recently, however, scientists have suggested a third species of elephant. This new classification still recognizes Asian elephants as a single species but divides African elephants into two new species, the African savanna elephant and the African forest elephant.