Africa Elephants Slideshow
Learn more about Earth's largest living land mammal.
The African bush elephant has two prominent tusks, which are present in both sexes.
The Largest Land Mammal in the World
As the largest land animal, the African bush elephant reaches up to 24 feet in length and 13 feet in height. Also known as the African savanna elephant, it is found in most African countries, living in varied habitats from the open savanna to the desert and high rainforest. It is the largest of the three elephant species and can weigh up to 11 tons and live up to 70 years, longer than any other mammal except humans. African bush elephants are herbivores and need to eat about 350 pounds of vegetation daily.
In addition to two prominent tusks, which are present in both sexes, the elephant is characterized by its two large ears, pillarlike legs, thickset body and a large head with a muscular, mobile trunk. The trunk is a strong appendage, with more than 40,000 muscles and tendons. Its sensitive tip ends in two finger-like projections, which can manipulate small objects. The trunk can lift objects of more than 400 pounds. Water is sucked up through the trunk and then blown into the mouth for a drink or onto the back as a cooling mist.
Elephant herds consist of related females and their young, and are managed by the eldest female, called the matriarch. The adult male elephant rarely joins a herd and leads a solitary life, only approaching herds during mating season. Females give birth to a single calf after 22 months of gestation, the longest gestation period among mammals.
Because elephants require substantial amounts of food and a large area in which to forage, habitat destruction across their range is a major threat to survival. Hunting has caused the most serious damage to African bush elephant populations. Humans kill elephants primarily for their tusks, and the population was decimated nearly to the point of extinction throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Elephants are still considered to be highly threatened with extinction in several areas of their range. In 1988, the international ivory trade was banned in an attempt to control poaching. This level of protection has been partially successful, although illegal poaching is still common in many areas.