Elephants are indigenous to Africa and Southern Asia. They’re identifiable by their exceptionally large size, long trunks, four columnar legs, and greyish-brown coloring, as well as their long curved ivory tusks. They’re a relative of the extinct mammoth.
There are some physical differences between the African and Asian elephants too. The African elephant has much larger ears, and the Asian elephant has a twin-domed head with an indent in the middle, whereas the African elephant has a singular dome.
They’re exceptionally large herbivore mammals and are the largest living land animal.
At the turn of the 20th century, there were a few million African elephants and about 100,000 Asian elephants. An estimated 470,000 African elephants and 40,000 – 50,000 wild Asian elephants.
What is an elephant’s habitat?
Elephants are herbivores, and so to survive in their habitat, they need to be able to find shrubs, grasses, bushes, and trees to eat. They also like to eat bananas and sugarcane grown by farmers.
They also look for areas with rivers, lakes, or streams so that they can drink water. They’ll use their strong trunks to dig up vegetation and create new watering holes if they can’t find water sources.
Living on different continents, African and Asian elephants have differing habitats.
African elephants live in many habitats, including wetlands, forests, grassland, savanna, and desert across 37 southern, western, and Central African countries.
African elephants stamp and dig into dry stream beds in their habitat to uncover water below the surface. They often work together, using their tusks, trunks, and feet, until they reveal a supply of water that’s big enough for everyone in the group to share.
A lesser-known third species of the elephant also resides in Africa. Forest elephants have adapted to live in the forest habitat of the Congo basin. They’re smaller than other African elephants and have adapted to the lush rainforest environment.
The Asian Elephant lives in 13 countries across South, Southeast, and East Asia. This elephant’s habitat tends to be in wet forests and grassland with tropical climates. Still, they live on plains, in evergreen and semi-evergreen forests, and in cultivating lands.
How have elephants adapted to their habitat?
Both African and Asian elephants have adapted to their unique habitat.
Asian elephants like to live in more tropical climates than African elephants. Asian elephants don’t have any sweat glands, and due to this, they have to adapt and find other ways to cool down, which include flapping their ears to create a fan effect, or spraying water from their trunks.
African elephants have also had to deal with their surrounding habitats and areas becoming more populated with people. To deal with this, they use their tusks to warn, protect and defend themselves against poachers or if they feel threatened.
Humans have also started to adapt better as conservationists have helped farms protect their crops to help keep the distance between humans and elephants.
Did you know that the African Elephant is the largest land animal on earth? Making them larger than their Asian cousins and can be identified with their larger ears.
African elephants have much larger ears than Asian elephants. This is so that it can dissipate its body heat in the high temperature of the African savanna. In hot weather, elephants can even increase the blood supply to their ears, flapping them around to dispel body heat.
Having wrinkly skin is another way African elephants stay cool in the heat. It allows heat to escape their bodies, and when they dip into the water to cool off, the wrinkles trap the moisture so they can stay longer.
Trunks and tusks
Did you know that an elephant’s trunk is used the same way as a nose? It’s used for smelling, drinking, and grabbing – making it very versatile!
An elephant’s trunk is pretty powerful, as it boasts 40,000 muscles.
Did you know that African elephants have two finger-like tools at the end of their trunk to help them grab things? Asian elephants only have one.
Both male and female African elephants have tusks that continuously grow and are used to help dig for food and water and strip bark from trees.
Where is an African Elephants habitat?
An African elephant’s habitat is usually in savannas located in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, elephants can also habitat in rainforests, primarily in Central and West Africa. Due to the differences in habitats, African elephants can be split into two – forest and savanna. However, some scientists argue there aren’t any physical or genetic differences between the two.
African elephants play a big part in their habitat and are referred to as ecosystem engineers. This means they shape their habitat, helping them survive and other animals. For example, during the dry season, African elephants use their trunks to dig up riverbeds; this later creates watering wholes in which many animals go for water.
Another good part African elephants play is with their dung! It’s full of seeds – a great way to help spread plants across their habitat and the environment. An African elephant’s dung also provides a good habitat for dung beetles! But that’s not everything; these clever animals also create passageways for smaller animals in the forest as they snack on trees.
What do African elephants eat?
An African elephant adapts well to its habitat and forages for food that is easily accessible, including roots, grasses, fruit, and bark.
Did you know that an adult African elephant can eat up to 300 pounds of food per day?
African elephants don’t tend to sleep much; they spend most of their day roaming great distances foraging for food to maintain their large bodies.
Is there any threat to African elephants?
The biggest threat to African elephants is poachers, hunting for ivory found in their tusks. The danger increased when Europeans colonized the area; this kicked off the illegal trade. Ivory from the tusks would be used for piano keys, combs, and many other items.
Before 1970, the elephant numbers were said to be around 26 million. As we reached 1970, the numbers dropped dramatically to 1.3 million. Today it’s believed that there are roughly only 400,000 African elephants remaining in the wild.
Due to the threat and the increasing demand for ivory, African Elephants are evolving and becoming tuskless.
Conservation of African Elephants
African elephants are protected in their habitats and geographical locations. They’re protected under international environment agreements, CITES, and the conservation of Migratory Species.
There have been efforts to try and re-legalize the trade of ivory, but so far, these efforts have been unsuccessful.
Conservation groups have worked on creating pathways to connect elephants to protected land. It’s believed that 70% of elephants currently habitat in unprotected land.
Facts about African elephants
- They can live up to 70 years.
- They can weigh anything between 2.5 to seven tons.
- Their scientific name is Loxodonta africana.
- Their current conservation status is vulnerable.
- An African elephant’s height (from its shoulder) can range from 8.2 to 13 feet.
- They often spray themselves with a coat of dust to protect themselves.
- Males use their tusks to battle one another as theirs are larger than females.
Since the Asian elephant’s ears are much smaller than the African elephant’s, they have had to adapt to another way to cool themselves off. They primarily flap their ears to fan themselves and dissipate body heat.
Six Sets of Teeth
Asian elephants can go through six sets of teeth in their lifetime. This is because their diet (made up of plants) means they’re constantly chewing and wearing their teeth down. Having six sets of teeth means the Asian elephants can enjoy their herbivorous diet and make the most of the food available in their forest habitat.
What is an Asian elephant’s habitat?
Asian elephants are adaptable so various settings can be suitable for an Asian elephant habitat, including a thick jungle, savannahs, rainforests, scrub forests, or grassy plains.
Asian elephants live in isolated pockets of India and Southeast Asia. While they are considered forest animals, open, grassy areas with different types of plants and shade from the sun are preferred Asian elephant habitats.
An Asian elephant habitat needs enough vegetation and water for the elephants to live off, and, if necessary, Asian elephants will migrate to find these habitats. They tend to move around within their home ranges, which might take up an area of 15 to 800 square kilometers.
This migration has been affected by human activities, like agriculture, which can also affect an Asian elephant’s habitat.
Similar adaptations between species
Though they live in different habitats and parts of the world, both elephant species have evolved tusks and trunks. Here’s how they’re useful in each elephant’s habitat:
Evolved from teeth, elephant tusks have many advantages, and they’re a way that elephants adapt to their habitat. They can use their tusks to lift objects, gather food, strip bark from trees, and dig into the ground to find water. They also use their tusks in defense when threatened. All African elephants have tusks, whereas only some male Asian elephants have tusks, with female Asian elephants not having any.
Elephants use their trunks in several different ways. One of the main ways that they’re used is to pluck leaves and vegetation off trees for the elephants to eat. They also use them to lift water, drink it, or spray it over themselves to stay cool. They even spray dirt onto themselves using their trunk, and the ground acts as sun cream, so they don’t get sunburnt. The boxes are also strong enough to lift and move large objects like tree trunks.
Elephant habitat loss
The elephant’s habitat is one of the main reasons why this animal is endangered. Habitat loss is one of the key threats it faces.
If climate change continues, the elephant’s habitat will become much drier and hotter, making it much more difficult for vegetation to grow. This means that the elephants won’t have a reliable food source, making it harder for their young to survive.
Humans also encroach on the elephant’s habitat to hunt for their ivory tusks.
African elephant habitat loss
The rapid growth of the human population in Africa and the fact that most African elephant habitats remain outside protected areas means that the size of the African elephant’s habitat is on the decline. In addition, as humans continue to populate these areas, more and more of the land is stripped for agriculture or homes. Known as habitat destruction and fragmentation, this further shrinks the elephant’s habitat.
The conflict between elephants and humans is another factor. Elephants turn to the farmers’ crops and fields for food because their habitat and usual source of food has been disrupted, and as a result, elephants are killed or hunted in retaliation.
Asian elephant habitat loss
Asian elephants also face the risk of habitat destruction and loss. Human populations are growing fast in the Asian elephant’s habit, which leads to the elephant population becoming small, isolated, and cut off from their ancient migratory routes because of human settlements.
More and more dams, roads, mines, and other industrial complexes are built in the elephant’s habitat, which means the larger habitat has been split into smaller fragments.
Elephant habitat conservation
Work is being done to conserve the habitat of both African and Asian elephants. Even conservation programs work with farmers to help them protect their crops from hungry elephants and provide them with compensation if an elephant does raid their crops.
The Asian Rhinos and Elephants Action Strategy (AREAS) aims to help remaining Asian elephant populations by improving the connections between their fragmented habitats.
The main goal of elephant habitat conservation is to protect the habitat that the habitats have left and to help elephants and humans to live alongside each other peacefully.
What are the other threats to African and Asian elephants?
Poachers are a big threat to African and Asian elephants because they’re hunted and killed for their tusks due to the demand for ivory.
This is an illegal trade, and a regulation is in place to stop this, called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). It’s a global agreement set by the government to protect endangered animals from illegal trade.
On January 1, 2018, China banned the domestic trade of elephant ivory, which was a big move as China was the largest market.
Fun facts about elephants
- Elephants play a critical part in their ecosystem and play a big role in shaping their habitat. For example, African elephants use their tusks during dry seasons to dig riverbeds.
- Their dung is full of seeds which help plants further spread and grow across the environment. It provides a good habitat for dung beetles too.
- They create pathways for smaller animals as they snack on high branches, trees, and shrubs.
- Elephants live in herds, and when a baby is born, all the females in the pack must look after the baby, not just the mother.
- They use low ultrasound frequencies that humans can’t hear to sing. So instead, they sing when they want to keep the herd together and when looking for mates.
- They only sleep for two hours a day – they spend most of their time eating and grazing.
- There’s a difference between the Asian and African elephant’s trunks. African elephants have two ‘fingers’ at the tip of their trunks, whereas Asian elephants have one.
- Tusks are incisor teeth that appear when elephants are two years old. They grow throughout their lives.
- An elephant’s skin is 2.5cm thick in most places.
- Elephant calves can stand within 20 minutes of being born. They can walk within an hour!
- The elephant’s temporal lobe (the part of the brain associated with memory) is larger and denser than a human’s. This is why it’s said that ‘an elephant never forgets.’
Truth or Myth: Crazy things we believe about elephants
Why do elephants not use a computer? Because they’re scared of the mouse!
There are many crazy things we have been told or think we know about elephants, but are all of these true? Let’s find out.
- Elephants drink through their trunks.
An elephant’s trunk is an extremely useful and versatile limb for elephants which they use for drinking, breathing, eating, smelling, and communicating. Although they do use their trunks for drinking, the water won’t go all the way up. Instead, they’ll suck the water up the trunk and pour it into their mouths. Elephants drink between 140 and 230 liters a day on average.
- An elephant never forgets.
Elephants are amazing creatures with both impressive physical statures and emotional capacity but are the old phrase that ‘an elephant never forgets’ really true? Although it may be slightly exaggerated, it may be more true than expected.
Elephants have very large brains, which may increase their memory capacity and aid their complex communication patterns. However, measuring an elephant’s memory span with precision is not easy.
- Elephants are scared of mice.
We are all familiar with this; from the film ‘Dumbo’ to every elephant featured in our favorite Saturday morning cartoons, we are told one thing about elephants — they are scared of mice. Well, there is very little proof that this one is true, but it is believed that the elephant’s fear of mice has more to do with the element of surprise than the mouse itself.
Theories that elephants are afraid of mice largely suggest it is because they are tiny creatures that can nibble on their feet or can climb up into their trunks, but there is no evidence to prove this particular theory. Instead, this theory dates back centuries to the Ancient Greeks, who reportedly told fables about a mouse that climbed into an elephant’s trunk and drove it crazy.
- Elephants can drink through their trunks like a straw.
An elephant’s trunk is an incredibly versatile limb used for breathing, smelling, touching, grasping, and producing sound; elephants use their trunks for drinking, but the water won’t go up. So instead, they’ll suck the water partway up the trunk and pour it into their mouths — a lot. Elephants drink between 140 and 230 liters a day on average.