The African Elephant - Loxodonta africana of Africa:

The African Elephant is the largest living land animal (measured at shoulder): huge, impressive and majestic beasts, they have earned their place as one of Africa’s 'Big 5'. They are also highly intelligent gentle giants with a strong sense of family and herd, and a complex social structure.


The lumbering gait of this towering, tusked monolith of the African veld, is one of the truly unforgettable sights in the arena of southern African wildlife. Usually a gentle, mild-mannered vegetarian, the elephant is quite capable of killing other animals such as antelope, and even hippopotamus, in its pursuit of water.

Whenever they reach water, which may be daily, or in drier areas only every third or fourth day, they bathe, either spraying themselves or lying down in the water. Sometimes they submerge completely, with only the tip of the trunk showing. They are very relaxed in water, and move through it either by swimming or by walking on the bottom while using their trunks as a 'snorkel'.


Elephants are incredibly social animals: they form strong, long-lasting bonds within their herd. They adopt orphaned calves, help injured elephants and work together. They have surprisingly complicated behavioural patterns and interactions. An injured member may be helped to its feet and supported by other herd members: if it is badly wounded, it may be vigorously defended by the herd, with even the calves taking part. Although elephants are normally peaceful individuals, they can be aggressive and extremely dangerous, especially if they are sick or injured. Females in groups with young are particularly unpredictable, as are males in musth.

An elephant’s skin varies from up to an inch thick on the legs, forehead, trunk and back, to paper-thin on the back of the ears, and around the mouth and anus. In spite of its thickness, the skin is a sensitive organ. It is covered by a sparse layer of bristly hairs, and does not possess sweat glands. Due to their large size elephants can build up excessive heat, and therefore a major priority is ensuring heat loss. They do not have a layer of fat underneath the skin; even so, they need to regularly wallow in mud or bathe in water in order to keep cool.


Bathing in mud has multiple functions in that the mud helps protect them from the sun and from insects, while also helping to maintain good skin condition. The ears of an elephant also help keep it cool, as the skin behind the ears is very thin with many blood vessels, and so helps to reduce heat: elephants often flap their ears to aid in this process. The ears themselves are very large: in adult bulls they can reach a height of nearly 2 m and a breadth of 1.2 m. The eyes are relatively small, and do not possess tear ducts, so when the eyes water the tears run down the cheeks.

The teeth of an elephant deserve special mention, as they are unique in the animal kingdom. The teeth are, of course, quite large, but they are also covered by hard ridges of enamel, which form different patterns in the two species, and are adaptations for grinding plant material: hence elephants are referred to as 'lophodont'.

Unlike most other mammals, elephant do not replace their cheek teeth vertically (by a new one replacing an old one from above or below); instead the teeth replace each other by moving forward in the mouth, like a conveyor belt. Older teeth wear away and fragment, and pieces of them are often swallowed.

Teeth are replaced six times during an elephant's lifetime. Tusks are elongated upper incisor teeth: they are used for digging and fighting, and one tusk usually wears down more quickly than the other, as elephants are either right- or left-'handed'. Tusks are composed mostly of dentine, and grow continuously: hence old bulls with very large tusks, which are usually referred to as 'tuskers'.

The heartbeat of an Elephant averages at 28 beats per minute compared to humans which average at around 70 beats per minute. An Elephant's top mental ability is reached between age 30 to 45.


Elephants have a thick layer of cartilage under their feet, which functions as a shockabsorber: when on the ground, the soles splay out, and when the foot is lifted, they shrink: this enables the elephant to walk without making a sound, in spite of its great size. Although elephants can run at a speed of about 40 km/hr, its vast bulk prevents it from jumping even a small ditch.

The trunk is an amazing organ of extreme dexterity: it is the single most important feature of an elephant, and gives the Order Proboscidea its name. It is actually a fusion between the nose and upper lip, and consists of some 100 000 muscle units, which allow the elephant to move the trunk with such a wide range of movement.

Elephants use their trunks to, among other things: breathe through, smell with, to pick up water to drink (the trunk can hold 8.5 litres), to pick leaves, fruit, etc., either off trees or off the ground, to cover themselves with mud, water or dust, and to communicate with each other, via touch, smell and the production of sound. It is also used for lifting objects and as a weapon. African elephants have two 'fingers' at the tip of the trunk, which are fleshy, mobile and very sensitive.

The "Big 5":LionLeopardElephantBuffaloRhino

Best places to see the African Elephant in Southern Africa:

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Elephant are found in many of the National Parks and private nature reserves throughout africa. Click on the links below to find places that have elephant.


  • Kruger National Park (South Africa)
  • Pilanesberg National Park (South Africa)
  • Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve (South Africa)
  • Addo Elephant National Park (South Africa)
  • Marakele National Park (South Africa)
  • Etosha National Park (Namibia)
  • Chobe National Park (Botswana)
  • Mana Pools National Park (Zimbabwe)
  • Chizarira National Park (Zimbabwe)
  • Gonarezhou (Zimbabwe)
  • Serengeti National Park (Kenya)
  • Tsavo National Park


 • HomeInformationBooksPhoto GalleryPlaces to see Elephant
Social HabitsFeeding Habits & DietReproductionConservation Status


  • Mala Mala Game Reserve
  • Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve
  • Phinda Resources Reserve
  • Timbavati Private Game Reserve
  • Shamwari Game Reserve
  • Londolozi Private Game Reserve
  • Singita Private Game Reserve
  • Ngala Private Game Reserve
  • Makalali Private Game Reserve
  • Tembe Elephant Park (South Africa)
  • Lake Manyara Park
  • Mashatu Game Reserve (Botswana)
African Elephant Links

» Bio / Statistics / Facts

» Introduction

» Communication
» Social Habits
» Feeding Habits & Diet
» Reproduction and Musth
» Conservation Status

» African Elephant Books

» Images Photo Gallery

» Places to see Elephant
» African Elephant Safaris
Elephant Links

» Elephant Evolution

» Indian Elephant

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