Introduction to Elephant

Elephant, the largest land-dwelling mammal. Elephants are found in Africa and Asia, primarily in forests and savannas. They can be domesticated and have been used as draft animals and circus performers.

Elephants are 5.3 to 13 feet (1.6 to 3.9 m) high at the shoulder, and usually weigh 6,000 to 14,000 pounds (2,720 to 6,350 kg). Males are larger than females. Elephants have thick, leathery skin that is wrinkled. The skin ranges in color from gray to brown and is covered with sparse, bristly hair.

The elephant has a long, thin tail with a tuft of hair at the tip. It has short, broad feet that are columnar in shape. The elephant has a massive head and a short, thick neck. It has small eyes and large, fan-shaped ears. The ears are thin; they cool the elephant by releasing body heat, especially when the elephant flaps them.

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of an elephant is its trunk, a flexible, tubelike extension of the nose and upper lip. It can be up to 10 feet (3.1 m) long. The trunk tapers to a small opening at the tip. The elephant's diet consists of grass, bark, roots, leaves, and fruit. The elephant uses its trunk to pull up bunches of grass or break off leaves from twigs. It then thrusts the food into its mouth. To drink, the elephant draws water into its trunk and then squirts the water into its mouth. It also uses the trunk to toss mud or dirt on its back, which helps cool the elephant. When alarmed, the elephant makes a trumpeting sound by blowing through its trunk.

The elephant has tusks, elongated incisor teeth that extend outside the mouth and grow throughout life. The tusks can be up to 11.5 feet (3.5 m) long and are curved slightly upward at the tip. The tusks are used to uproot trees and shrubs and to fight other elephants.

Interesting facts about elephants
The skin of an elephant is gray and wrinkled. An adult elephant's skin measures up to 1 1/2 inches (3 centimeters) thick and weighs about 1 short ton (0.9 metric ton). However, it is surprisingly tender. Flies, mosquitoes, and other insects can bite into the skin.
An angry or frightened elephant can run at a speed of more than 25 miles (40 kilometers) an hour for a short distance. On a long journey, a herd of elephants travels at about 10 miles (16 kilometers) an hour.
An elephant uses its trunk as a hand. The trunk can carry a 600-pound (272-kilogram) log or an object as small as a coin. Elephants also breathe and smell with their trunks.
Elephants love water and frequently bathe in lakes and rivers. They are excellent swimmers. An elephant gives itself a shower by shooting a stream of water from its trunk.
ElephantsElephants are the largest land mammals.


Elephants are social animals, usually living in herds. The females, called cows, and their young, called calves, live in herds of 15 to 40 individuals led by a mature cow. The males, called bulls, are either solitary or live in herds (usually small in size) with other bulls. Large temporary herds containing hundreds of individuals of both sexes sometimes are formed during unusual occurrences, such as droughts.

Most elephants have no fixed mating season. Some populations, however, have a mating season from November to April, during which mature bulls go into musth, a period of aggressiveness triggered by the secretion of hormones from a gland in the head. Cows in estrus (a recurrent state of sexual excitability) emit low-frequency calls that can attract bulls more than two miles (3.2 km) away. About 22 months after mating, the cow normally bears a single calf. The calf weighs about 220 pounds (100 kg) at birth and is 3 feet (90 cm) tall at the shoulder. It is covered with brown, fuzzy hair, most of which is shed as the calf matures. The calf usually nurses no longer than 18 months, though some nurse for more than 6 years. Sexual maturity can occur anytime between ages 10 and 22. Elephants can live to 80 years.

Species of Elephants

There are three species of elephants. Two are native to Africa and one, to India.

The African savanna elephant, found on the savannas of central Africa, reaches a height of 13 feet (3.9m) at the shoulder, and weighs up to 16,500 pounds (7,500 kg). The tusks, which both sexes have, grow to a length of up to 11.5 feet (3.5 m), and weigh about 225 pounds (100 kg) each. The ears may be 6.5 feet (2.0 m) long. The elephant has two fleshy lobes at the tip of its trunk, which help it pick up food. There are five toenails on each forefoot and three nails on each hindfoot.

The African forest elephant lives in central African forests and is rarely seen. It is similar to the savanna elephant and was not identified as a separate species until 2001. In general, it is smaller than the savanna elephant, reaching 8 feet (2.5 m) in height. The forest elephant's ears are more rounded and it has longer, straighter tusks.

The Indian elephant is found in parts of India, southeast Asia, and southern China. It is also smaller than the African savanna elephant and has smaller ears. It has five nails on each forefoot and four on each hind-foot. The trunk has one fleshy lobe at the tip. The Indian elephant is up to 9.8 feet (2.9m) high at the shoulder and weighs up to 14,700 pounds (6,700 kg). Only the bull has tusks; they are about 9 feet (2.7 m) long and weigh about 150 pounds (68 kg) each.

The Indian elephant is easily tamed and is used as a draft animal throughout southern Asia. It is also trained as a circus performer. Working elephants are captured from wild herds. They are taken by rope traps, by being driven into a stockade, or with the aid of a tame elephant. Training methods are similar to those used for horses, but the training period may last as long as 10 years. During this time, the same driver, or mahout, usually remains with the elephant.


Elephants have been domesticated and used by humans for thousands of years. In ancient Rome, elephants were trained as circus animals. In 218 B.C., Hannibal, a Carthaginian general, used elephants to transport his army across the Alps in a campaign against Rome. Elephants were first used as draft animals more than 2,000 years ago in India. They were also used to transport Indian royalty.

Today, elephants are used in Asia in the lumber industry to lift and pull heavy logs and in other industries to perform lifting tasks.

For centuries, elephants have been slaughtered for their tusks, which are a source of ivory. Due to indiscriminate hunting for their tusks and meat, and destruction of their habitat, both species of elephants are threatened with extinction. In 1989, more than 100 countries agreed to participate in an international moratorium on the trade of ivory and other elephant products. Some countries, however, as well as black marketeers, continue to trade in ivory, leaving the future of the elephant in doubt.

Elephants belong to the elephant family, Elephantidae. The African savanna elephant is Loxodonta africana; the African forest elephant, L. africana cyclotis; the Indian elephant, Elephas maximus.