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Below we have listed some facts and figures for the three species of elephants, based on our best knowledge. The population figures are very rough estimates - partly due to lack of updated, reliable counts. If you have any data to help us fill in gaps please let us know!

Genetic evidence presented in 2001 led to the generally accepted decision that Africa is home to two rather than one species of elephant: The African savanna elephant, Loxodonta africana and the African forest elephant, Loxodonta cyclotis. This is significant because it means that there are many fewer elephants remaining of each individual species, with the forest elephant being the more endangered. IUCN currently do not recognize this decision.


  • Ele phant = arch great
  • Earths largest land mammal
  • 3 species:
    • African savanna, Loxodonta africana
    • African forest, Loxodonta cyclotis
    • Asian, Elephas maximus
  • In 37 countries in Africa, 13 in Asia (2013). Once spanned continuous tracts across the continents, now live in increasingly fragmented areas
  • Extremely adaptable
  • Maximum life span approx. 70 years
  • Brain weighs 4-6 kg, the largest of living and extinct terrestrial mammals
  • Like humans, are able to make and use tools, and show evidence of social learning
  • Advanced acoustic, visual, chemical and tactile communication
  • Able to communicate and maintain contact with other elephants over long distances using seismic communication signals, which they absorb through their feet
  • Able to discriminate between the voices of at least 100 other elephants
  • Trunk, a fusion of upper lip and elongated nose weights up to 140 kg, can pick up a straw, push over a huge tree, tenderly touch family members, pour 12 litres of water into its mouth, detect scents over several kilometres
  • Tusks - elongated incisors - ivory has been coveted by humans for tens of thousands of years and has had lasting impact on art and culture
  • Skin is up to 32 mm thick in places and almost paper thin in others
  • Females can give birth to up to 12 offspring
  • Daily food intake 4-7% of body weight
  • Diet includes grass, herbs, tree foliage, fruit, bark, pith, lianes
  • Interbirth interval: 4-6 years
  • Gestation: about 660 days
  • Age at first reproduction: 8-15 years
  • Age at first musth: 15-28 years
  • Basic social unit is the family, which includes a mother and her sexually immature offspring
  • Live in complex fission-fusion societies, that separate and reunite based on weather conditions and food availability
  • Families are led by matriarchs, who store decades of ecological knowledge that is critical for the survival of the family unit and members through droughts, predation and other threats
  • Tend to have lifelong or long-lasting social bonds
  • Demonstrate socio-emotional complexities, such as empathy and self-recognition
  • Display concern for distressed and dying elephants, not restricted to close kin

 

  African savanna
(Lododonta africana)
African forest
(Loxodonta cyclotis)
Asian
(
Elephas maximus)
Population 2012
(Estimates)
434,000-550.000 60,000-150,000 Approx. 30,000 wild;
15,000 captive
Population 2008
(Estimates)
490,000-575.000 100,000-160,000 Approx. 30,000 wild;
15,000 captive
Population 1979 (Estimates) 1.3 million both African species See African savanna 28,000-42,000
IUCN Status Vulnerable Not indicated as a separate species by IUCN Endangered
Range states 37 Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa
Native: Angola (Angola); Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Congo; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Côte d'Ivoire; Equatorial Guinea; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Gabon; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Kenya; Liberia; Malawi; Mali; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Rwanda; Senegal; Sierra Leone; Somalia; South Africa; Sudan; Tanzania, United Republic of; Togo; Uganda; Zambia; Zimbabwe
Regionally extinct: Burundi; Gambia; Mauritania
Reintroduced: Swaziland
Found most commonly in countries with dense forests:
Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Cameroon and Central African Republic in central Africa and Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Ghana in West Africa
Native: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia (Kalimantan, Sumatera), Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia (Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah), Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Viet Nam
Regionally extinct: Pakistan
Ave. max height male Almost 4 m 2.4 m Almost 3.5 m
Ave. max height female Almost 2.7 m 1.98 m 2.4 m
Ave. max weight male 6,000 kg   5,500 kg
Ave. max weight female 2,767 kg -  
Ave. weight newborn 120 kg - 90 kg
Ave. age
at male independence
14 years    
Back shape Concave Concave Convex
Highest point Shoulders Shoulders Head
Ears Very large triangular Typically smaller,
more rounded
Smaller, triangular,
prominent ear folds
Skin Wrinkled   Smoother thansavanna
Teeth Lozenge-shaped loops Lozenge-shaped loops Narrow compressed loops
Mandible Short and wide Long and narrow  
Tusks, male Thicker more upcurved
than forest
More slender and straighter than savanna Yes, but many are tuskless
Tusks, female Thicker more upcurved than forest More slender and straighter than savanna Vestigial or absent
Tusklessness More common in females; % varies depending on ivory hunting pressure % varies from population to population Males: Varies from population to population
Tusks, ave max. weight 7 kg female; 49 kg male    
Tusk, max. recorded weight 97.3 kg    
Ivory Softer and more yellow
than forest
Harder and "pinker"
than savanna
 
Trunk Two finger-like tips Two finger-like tips One finger-like tip
Toenails Four on forefoot;
three on hindfoot
Five on forefoot; three on hindfoot Five on forefeet, four
on hind foot
Temporal gland secretion Both sexes;
common in females
Both sexes;
uncommon in females
Both sexes;
very rare in females
Sound production As low as 10 Hz As low as 5 Hz As low as 8 Hz
Males Form bachelor groups Form bachelor groups Form bachelor groups rarely
Average home range Up to 11,000 km2
(desert elephants
Up to 2,000 km2 Up to 4,000 km2
Predators Humans; juveniles,
calves: lions, hyenas
Humans Humans, tigers
Major Threats

Poaching for ivory and meat.

Illegal hunting.

Loss and Fragmentation of habitat due to expansion of human population and land development.

Human-elephant conflict mainly due to habitat encroachment.

Forest elephants face the threats of poaching for ivory and habitat loss, similar to other elephants, but they also are more frequently hunted for meat and threatened by industries extracting natural resources, such as wood, minerals, and oil.

Forest elephants have not benefited from development of an ecotourism industry that encourages their protection.

Habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, which also leads to human-elephant conflict and death. Asian elephants live among the most dense human populations in the world.

Poaching for meat, leather, and ivory.