African Elephant (Loxodonta africana)
Scientific name: Loxodonta africana
Common name: African elephant
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Status: Endangered
Population estimate (in the wild): 400,000
Population trend: Decreasing
The African elephant belongs to the elephantidae family and is the largest mammal on land. These enormous grey and wrinkly creatures can weigh over 10 tons be anywhere from 2.5 to 4 meters tall. Elephants adapt easily and can be found in a variety of habitats throughout Africa from dense forests to open plains. The females and young live in herds while the bulls are often by themselves or in smaller all-male herds.
Elephants are herbivores and will eat any vegetation available to them, be it grass, leaves, fruit or bark. These large animals can live up to 65 years and have only a few predators that are able to kill them. Hyenas and lions are a threat to the calves and in certain areas lions have adapted to kill adult elephants.
Wildlife ACT’s Work with Elephants
RESERVES : Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, Mkhuze, Tembe Elephant Park, Somkhanda Game Reserve
- Assisting with elephant monitoring and working to understand the demographics of important KZN populations.
- Assisting with the purchasing and fitting of satellite tracking devices and the monitoring of the data coming in.
- Assisting with developing individual elephant identikits for management purposes.
- Assisting with the reintroduction of elephants to new, protected areas.
Endangered and facing a high risk of becoming extinct in the wild.
In many areas elephants are currently being poached faster than they can reproduce. This is hugely significant when we consider that female elephants only produce a single calf after a 22 month gestation period. Male elephants also need to reach 20 years of age before they can successfully compete for mating.
There are approximately 470 000 African elephants in the wild in herds that wander through 37 African countries. There are two distinct subspecies of African elephant – Savanna elephants and the smaller Forest elephants. It is estimated that Savannah (or bush) elephants make up 25-35% of the total African elephant population. Both subspecies are in rapid decline due to habitat loss and poaching for the international ivory trade as well as for meat.
- Elephant distribution is becoming increasingly fragmented across the continent due to increased poaching – with most of it concentrated in central and West Africa with Asia being the main destination of illegal ivory.
- Poaching for ivory and meat has traditionally been the major cause of the species’ decline.
- Illegal hunting remains a significant factor in some areas, particularly in Central Africa.
- Currently the most important perceived threat is the loss and fragmentation of habitat caused by ongoing human population expansion and rapid land conversion. A specific manifestation of this trend is the reported increase in human-elephant conflict, which further aggravates the threat to elephant populations. (IUCN)
Interesting Elephant Facts
- Elephants ‘rumble’ or purr like cats as a means of communication.
- The elephant is the largest land mammal and can weigh up to 10 tons!
- African elephants care for wounded individuals in the herd and can even identify the bones of deceased members.
- When an older male wants to spar with a younger male, they will often get down on their knees, which is a great example of elephant empathy. Elephants also appear to express grief, compassion, self-awareness, altruism and play.
- When an elephant calf is not feeding, it might suck its trunk for comfort, just as a human baby would suck its thumb. If a baby elephant is distressed, the entire family will rumble and go over to touch and caress it.
- Elephants eat constantly throughout the day and night and can consume up to 5% of their body mass.
- An elephant’s trunk serves as a nose, a hand, an extra foot, a signaling device, a tool for gathering food, siphoning water, dusting & digging and much more.
- The elephant brain is the largest of all land mammals with a mass of over 5kg. It is similar in structure to the human brain.
- Observations suggest that elephants are able to recognize themselves in a mirror. Self-recognition indicates a very high level of awareness, restricted only to few species.