How Big is the African Bush Elephant?
The African Bush Elephant is the world’s largest land animal. An adult male will be about 10-11 feet tall (3 to 3.5 metres), 20-24 feet long (6-7 metres) and weigh about 15000 lb (7500 kg). The females are slightly smaller. They can eat 500 lb (225 kg) of food every day, and drink 50 gallons (190 litres) of water. The picture below shows how big the African Bush Elephant is, compared with a human.
Because it is so big, an adult elephant has almost no enemies. A baby elephant might be attacked by a lion or a crocodile, but the only creature that can harm an adult elephant is a well-prepared human – although in some wildlife parks, there are large prides of lions that have figured out how to kill an adult elephant, using clever teamwork and strategy.
Elephants have been hunted, in the past, for their meat and skin, for the so-called “fun” of hunting an elephant, and especially for their tusks, which are made of ivory. In the 19th century, ivory was used for piano keys, valuable works of art, and other things. Because people wanted ivory so much, many elephants were killed – thousands every year. The population of African Elephants dropped from several million in 1900 to only 700,000 in 1989, when hunting elephants for ivory was banned. If this had not been done, the African Elephant would have gone extinct in the 1990’s. As it is, there are now about 2 million African Elephants.
Now it is against the law to kill elephants for ivory, and in many countries it is against the law to buy or sell ivory. Despite this, there are criminals who hunt elephants illegally. These hunters are called “poachers”, and they cause a lot of harm. For example, in the African country called Chad, the number of elephants has gone down from 300,000 to only 10,000 over forty years – all because of illegal hunting.
African and Asian Elephants
Scientists once classified elephants into two different species, the African Elephant and the Asian (or Indian) Elephant. Since studying the DNA of the African Elephant, they’ve realised that the African Elephant is really two different species, which they call the African Bush Elephant, and the African Forest Elephant. The Bush Elephant is the larger of the two types of African Elephant, and both types of African Elephant are larger than the Asian Elephant.
These three species are the only living creatures in the order Elephantidae, and Elephantidae is the only order of mammals in the family Proboscidea (the word Proboscidae comes from the Greek word for “nose”). Therefore, the African Bush Elephant is
- The world’s largest of the three Elephantidae
- The world’s largest of the three Proboscidea
- The world’s largest of the over 3900 land mammals
as well as being the world’s largest land animal. The largest mammal and animal of all is the sea-dwelling Blue Whale.
An Elephant’s Tusks are actually a very large tooth. Other animals with tusks include walruses, wild boar, and narwhals (amongst others).
Elephant Facts and Myths
There’s a saying that “An Elephant Never Forgets”. Although this is probably no more true for elephants than for people, what is true is that elephants are very intelligent animals. Sometimes the survival of a herd might depend on the oldest member being able to recall where she found water in a drought many decades ago. Elephants have also been noticed using “tools” – for example, scratching their back with a branch, or using chewed-up wood to plug up a waterhole in dry weather so it won’t dry out.
If a herd of elephants comes across a dead elephant they will gather around, and perhaps touch it with their trunk – perhaps as if they are mourning over it. However, the famed “elephant graveyards” where elephants go to die are just a myth. Elephants don’t seek out some special “dying place” when their time comes.
An elephant can live up to 60-70 years in the wild. Some captive elephants have lived as long as 80 years.
Elephant Habitat and Diet
The African Bush Elephant lives almost everywhere in Africa south of the Sahara desert, except in the jungles. They prefer open grasslands and savannahs, and have even been observed deliberately knocking down trees! The females travel in small family groups, the males travel alone, except when they are young. They will travel very far in search of food or water. Elephants are plant-eaters, and eat a wide variety of different types of plants. Many plants benefit from this, because the elephants carry the plants’ seeds in their stomach for long distances, and then “plant” the seeds in a big pile of elephant poo fertiliser!
Elephants and People
Besides hunting them for meat and ivory, people have long made use of the elephant’s great strength, to pull heavy weights, move heavy equipment, and so forth. Elephants have been used in wars – one of the most famous examples was when Hannibal took war elephants over the Alps to attack the Roman Empire. Asian Elephants were an important part of the Indian army until the invention of the cannon in the 17th century. They also hold a special place in the Hindu religion. Now, elephants are a “must-see” item in any zoo visit or safari.