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.
Elephant ears come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but it takes some experience to see the differences in this feature. Unless you feel you can really recognize these differences we don't suggest you use them to ID elephants. But with a little practice you will find that they are very useful features for telling elephants apart.
Learn more about these features by clicking on the screenshot above 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 ear lobe size and shape to identify African elephants
- The lobes of very "large ears" end way below the jaw line and the main body of the ear may droop down, flop over or hang in "drapes" with the weight of the ear. Photo E1
- The lobes of very "small ears" reach just at the jaw line. Photo E2
- Ear lobes may "curl outward". Photo E3
- Or they may "curve inward" and backward. Photo E4
- This may cause the ear lobe to "bulge". Photo E5
- The ear lobe may also "jut forward". Photo E6
- In some cases covering part of the elephant's face. Photo E7
- Ear lobes may be "rounded". Photo E8
- Or they may be "pointed". Photo E9
- Or the edge of the ear may have a wavy appearance. Photo E10