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Identifying elephants isn't difficult, but it requires using powers of observation and it takes a bit of practice. There are many different characteristics that you can use to identify an elephant: sex; body size; shape; length and configuration of the tusks; size and shape of the ears; ear venation patterns; notches, tears, holes in the ears. ElephantVoices has developed eight educational modules explaining how to read and understand these characteristics, also used in the Mara Elephants Who's Who database.

You should start by determining whether the elephant you are trying to identify is male or female, and will get help from How to sex African Elephants.

Other characteristics include the appearance of the trunk and face. Learn more about these features by clicking on the screenshot to the right, or on one of the links to photos below. You will then start a slideshow. The caption shown is equal to respective text on this page. You can go through slide by slide - or let it run through automatically. Learn more about elephants - enjoy!

What to look for when using the trunk and face to identify African elephants

  1. Sadly, many elephants have wounds caused by people. Elephants whose trunks are caught in a snare frequently lose a portion of their trunks. Select "chopped trunk". Others may have a "slit cut trunk" from spear or arrow wounds. Photo F1
  2. If elephants are fortunate enough to have the snare removed by a veterinarian, the trunk still may show signs of damage, or "other trunk injury". Photo F2
  3. Elephants may have wart or bumps or old wounds on the trunk or face, of "wart/bump face". Many elephants in the Mara bear old abscesses from arrow and spear wounds that show up as lumps and bumps on their face or body. The herpes virus also produces wart-like bumps on the trunk. Photo F3
  4. Wrinkled skin on the forehead is typical of mountain elephants in Kenya. Many elephants in the Mara have "wrinkled foreheads", perhaps because they originate from the Mau Forest. Photo F4
  5. Some female elephants noticeably have a more "pointed forehead". Photo F5