Unusual features/differences from similar
When using a
spotlight at night, elephants turn their heads
away when the light is shone into their eyes.
Visible Male/Female Differences
Besides the male's penis and the female's nipples, the males are larger, taller and twice as heavy as
cows. Bulls typically have
thicker tusks and wider heads. In profile males have a more rounded forehead, and a more
curved outline to the back. An elephant's height can be estimated from the size of its footprints. For females
the shoulder height is approximately 5,5 times the length of the hind footprint
and for males shoulder height is multiplying
the circumference of the
front spoor by 2.5 approximately or 5,8 times the length of the hind
The tallest bull ever measured was 4 m at the
shoulder with a guessed weight of 10 tons. The biggest tusks from Southern
Africa on record is in the British Museum and weigh 101,7 kg and 96,3 kg
respectively. The heaviest reliably weighed tusks are 102,3 kg and 107,3 kg, are
from near Mount Kilimanjaro
Habitat and Distribution
Typically found in tree savanna, woodland
and grassland near rivers, flood plains and similar areas providing food, water and shade.
Dependent on water but can move up to 80 km from it. Their ability to
move long distances allows them to use several different habitats within a wide area, and
to move through habitats that provide no resources.
Very unselective: when
browsing acacias they swallow more wood than leaves. In summer grass forms the bulk of the
diet, replaced in winter by woody plants. They eat soil, salt encrustations and rocks to
obtain sodium and trace elements. Intake is about 150 kg wet weight per day. Elephants and crops cannot
co-exist as this leads to confrontations with farmers.
A single calf weighing 120 kg and with a shoulder height 90 cm are born throughout the
year after a gestation of 22 months. Calves are weaned at 3-8 years, just before
the birth of the next calf. Calves are killed by lions and
spotted hyenas. Permanent tusks erupt at 18
months in males and at 27 months in females. Herds are matriarchal and females
stay in their family groups. Females are sexually mature
at 9-18 years and males at 7-18 years. Lifespan is 60 years.
Behavior and Habits
Active duyring day and night, alternating feeding with movement, resting and drinking.
They rest in shade in the heat of the day. Elephants lie down to sleep.The trunk is
used to put food into the mouth and can pick small ojects like single seeds yet
is powerful enough to
uproot trees. Trees are pushed over, bark is chiseled off with the tusks and roots are dug up with the feet
and tusks. As the molars wear down they are replaced from behind in a series of
six in each half of each jaw. Once the sixth molar is worn down the elephant cannot chew properly and slowly
dies of starvation. Elephants suck about 4 liters of water into the trunk and
spurt it into the
mouth. They prefer clean water and intake is 120 liters a day for
an adult bull. If no surface water is available they dig in river beds and make large holes
that other animals also use. Elephants are not territorial.
Spreading and flapping the ears, head
shaking, kicking up dust, standing tall and mock charging are used to intimidate
threats and rivals. In a serious charge the ears back
against the neck and the trunk is tucked up under the chin. Elephants have an
inexplicable fascination with old elephant bones are
they are carefully investigated by feeling with the trunk and carried around.
From the age of 25
upward bulls periodically go into must when their testosterone levels rise to
six times the usual level. The must period becomes comes more often and lasts longer as bulls age
then decreases in length after 45. Must bulls wander widely in search of females
in heat and join female herds to check for cows that are close to oestrous. The
glands on the sides of their heads swell and produce a sticky, smelly secretion
during the must and urine
dribbles continuously. The penis sheath
and the inside of the back legs become stained dark green and gives of the
typical elephant smell. Bulls in must walk
with their heads held high and become very aggressive.
Must bulls will fight to the death over access to females
Elephants are very vocal,
producing a wide variety of squeals, screams and high-pitched trumpeting which are audible
to humans. 75% Of the vocal communication uses frequencies too
low for humans to hear, commonly down to 14 vibrations per second. Some infrasonic calls are very
loud at 110 decibels
and carry for at least 5 km. Part of one call sounds like water
sloshing in a pipe.
Dung and Field sign
Roughly spherical dung, very coarse and fibrous with undigested fragments of wood
and bark. Rhino dung is comparable in size but more cylindrical. Demolished trees
and bushes. Mud smears on trees and rocks above
1,8 m can only be made by elephants. Holes dug in river beds.
||Elephant dung with Marula pips
||Elephants eat the bark of the Marula
||Elephant dung with fungi
||Elephant track under Marula Tree
||The fruit of the Marula tree
||An information board at Pretoriuskop,
Kruger National Park, South Africa.