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.
By clicking on the screenshot to the right, or on one of the links to photos below, you will 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 to sex an African elephant
- Focus on the general body shape, the shape of the head, the thickness of the tusks and the genitalia. From left to right you'll see: an adult male, an adult female and a juvenile female. Photo A1
- In some cases the sex is obvious. Photo A2
- For age, males are larger than females. By age 17, males are half their body weight but they are already as tall as the largest adult females. Photo A3
- Males have more massive and rounded foreheads, and thicker, more conical tusks. They have no breasts between their front legs. Photo A4
- Females have smaller more pointed or square foreheads and more slender tusks. Adult females have two breasts between their front legs. Photo A5
- Adult females have two breasts located between their forelegs. Photo A6
- Males tend to carry their heads higher than their shoulders; their abdomens slope downward from their forelegs to hind legs. Photo A7
- Females tend to carry their heads lower and their abdomens are more curved. Photo A8
- In males the penis shaft bulges out below the tail and curves forward. Photo A9
- In females the genitalia look like a funnel with the vulva opening pointing downward. Photo A10
- Younger elephants are harder to sex but again, check out the foreheads and tusk thickness. Both these elephants are females. Photo A11