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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
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Maximum longevity: 65 years (captivity) Observations: Under optimal conditions, males attain sexually maturity at about 10 years of age and females at 11 years of age. Some animals, however, may not reach sexual maturity until they are 20 years old, and males generally do not reproduce until they are over 20 years of age. Elephants are long-lived mammals, but probably not as long-lived as often cited. Females remain fertile for about 55-60 years and elephants have been estimated to live up to 70 years in the wild (Ronald Nowak 1999). More conservative estimates suggest elephants live up to 65 years in the wild (Wiese and Willis 2004). In captivity, there are anecdotal reports of animals living over 80 years. Record longevity, however, belongs to one wild born female that was still living at 53-54 years of age (Richard Weigl 2005). Despite having as much as six sets of molars in a lifetime, elephants suffer from teeth erosion as a type of mechanical senescence.
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Reproduction
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A females' estrus period lasts for about forty-eight hours. A bull in musth, a heightened state of sexual aggression and activity, must determine if the cow is in estrus by smelling her genitals. He inhales with the end of his trunk rubbing her genitals, then exhales with the end of the trunk in his mouth. This sends chemicals to his Jacobson’s organ, located in the palate, to test her condition for mating. Larger males with the largest tusks are usually around fifty years old and do most of the breeding; leaving the younger bulls to roam until a mate is found. Males constantly search for mates and rarely stay for more than a few weeks with a female and her herd.

Mating System: polygynous

Elephants do not have any specific mating season. During the rainy seasons the reproductive rate is higher while times of drought or crowded conditions result in a lower reproductive rate. After a 22-month gestation period, single elephant calves are born weighing about 265 pounds (120-130 kg), twins are rare. A short time after birth, they instinctively are able to follow their mothers. Females give birth every four to nine years. Older calves are weaned a few months before the next is born.

Sexual maturity is reached between 10 and 12 years of age. African elephant live about 70 years, they continue to grow in height during their lives, reaching a maximum of 13 ft (4-4.5 m) for males, and 9 ft (approx. 2.5-3 m) for females. (Estes, 1999; Eltringam, 1992)

Breeding interval: Females give birth every four to nine years.

Breeding season: Births occur more frequently during rainy seasons, but may occur throughout the year.

Range number of offspring: 2 (high) .

Average number of offspring: 1.

Average gestation period: 22 months.

Average weaning age: 48-108 months.

Average time to independence: 48-108 minutes.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 10-12 years.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 10-12 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous

Average birth mass: 105000 g.

Average gestation period: 670 days.

Average number of offspring: 1.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male:
3650 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female:
4018 days.

The calf is born into a nurturing herd of related females and young males. After a gestation period of 20-22 months, they are precocial as they can see, smell, and walk a short time after birth. These well-developed calves are guarded and taken care of by their allomothers; young females who assist the calf’s mother. Elephant cows of the herd, which are typically related, frequently suckle each others' calves. Daughters remain in their natal herd for life, sons leave their natal herd once they reach sexual maturity.

Parental Investment: precocial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); post-independence association with parents; extended period of juvenile learning

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Norwood, L. 2002. "Loxodonta africana" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_africana.html
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Recent convincing genetic evidence suggests that the two subspecies of African elephants, L. a. africana and L. a. cyclopis, deserve separate species status. Extensive genetic divergence in 4 nuclear genes, along with distinct morphological and behavioral differences, suggests that these two kinds of elephants have been evolving independently for an estimated 2.5 million years. These results have profound implications for African elephant conservation efforts.

-There are many physical differences between Asian elephants, Elephus maximus, and African elephants, Loxodonta Africana. African elephants are larger, have darker skin, and bigger tusks in both sexes. Asian elephants rarely have tusks. Asian elephants have a round back and two mounds on their forehead, whereas the African elephant’s back curves downward and has a smooth forehead.

-Some parks in Africa are beginning to research elephants using radio-tracking systems. In this way they can observe their location, migratory patterns, and reproduction rates.

-The word jumbo derived from an English circus elephant named by his owner because of his size. Currently, the word is used as an adjective.

-Elephants typically walk 3-5 miles per hour and can reach 25 miles per hour by lengthening and quickening their strides. (Gordon, 1999; CITES, 2001; Moss, 2001; Estes, 1999)

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Norwood, L. 2002. "Loxodonta africana" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_africana.html
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Behavior
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Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical

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Norwood, L. 2002. "Loxodonta africana" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_africana.html
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Conservation Status
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The African Elephant Conservation Act of 1988 is in full effect today, which bans any trade in ivory. The species’ status on the CITES appendix has moved to #1, from a monitored amount of trade to none. Though some conservation programs offer rewards, people have made movements to conserve and live with the elephants without being repaid. Conservation facilities exist in Africa, and societies to fuel them exist worldwide in Cameroon, England, Germany, Kenya, Netherlands, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Sweden, Tanzania, Thailand and the United States. In central eastern Africa, a number of wildlife conservancies hope to give endangered species a large protected area to live in and reproduce. They hope to see more action taken on predators and stop the illegal trade in ivory. Some parks and other areas that are being populated more and more with humans must control the number of elephants by controlled killing, or culling.

(CITES, 2001)

US Federal List: threatened

CITES: appendix i

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable

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Norwood, L. 2002. "Loxodonta africana" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_africana.html
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Benefits
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Elephant foraging and wandering sometimes result in crop damage and damage to villages.

Negative Impacts: crop pest

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Norwood, L. 2002. "Loxodonta africana" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_africana.html
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Benefits
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Humans have previously profited from ivory as it was used for jewelry, sculptures, pianos, and tools. Their hides were sometimes used for clothes and blankets and the local people ate their meat. Ecotourism activities revolving around seeing African elephants in the wild now provide significant sources of revenue for some regional economies in Africa.

Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material; ecotourism

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Norwood, L. 2002. "Loxodonta africana" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_africana.html
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Associations
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Very few species can alter its own environment like elephants do. They demolish bushes, pull up trees by their roots and pack down the soil which can lead to erosion. This destruction also turns wooded areas into grasslands that are needed by grazing animals. Elephants create water holes by digging in dry riverbeds. They coat themselves with mud from the waters edge to protect from the sun and parasites, which creates a larger water hole. They can make and enlarge caves by searching for salts to eat. These caves are used for shelter for many different species. When elephants walk they stir up insects for birds to eat and easily disperse seeds which pass through their system undigested. The African Eggplant (Solanum aethiopicum) only grows after it has been through their system and fertilized by the elephant dung.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds; keystone species

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Norwood, L. 2002. "Loxodonta africana" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_africana.html
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Trophic Strategy
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Elephants eat vegetation like leaves, roots, bark, grasses and fruit. Each day they can consume anywhere from 220 to 660 pounds (100 to 300 kg) of food, and drink up to 50 gallons (190 L) of water. During the rainy seasons elephants eat grass and herbs like papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) and cat tails (Typha augustifolia). During dry seasons in the savannah they eat leaves collected from thorny trees and bushes. Swamps are a last resort for food because swamp vegetation contains little nutrition. However, dying elephants are often found in these areas because this vegetation is softer and older elephants are often missing teeth.

Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers; wood, bark, or stems; fruit

Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore , Frugivore , Lignivore)

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Norwood, L. 2002. "Loxodonta africana" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_africana.html
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Distribution
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African elephants were historically found south of the Sahara Desert to the south tip of Africa, from the Atlantic (western) coast of Africa to the Indian Ocean in the east. Currently populations are found in increasingly fragmented habitat throughout the same range, often primarily in and near wildlife reserves and protected areas due to poaching and habitat destruction.

Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )

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Norwood, L. 2002. "Loxodonta africana" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_africana.html
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Habitat
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The habitats occupied by African elephants vary because they can survive long periods of time without water; they occupy deserts, forests, savannas, river valleys and marshes.

(CITES, 2001)

Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest

Wetlands: marsh ; swamp

Other Habitat Features: agricultural

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Norwood, L. 2002. "Loxodonta africana" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_africana.html
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Life Expectancy
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Elephants have one of the longest lifespans of all mammals- about seventy years. Their age can be determined by height comparison to the matriarch, tusk length, or more complicated methods like measuring the weight of an eye lens from an elephant that recently died. Aging elephants faces appear sunken and their ears fold toward their body as they get older. They may also suffer from arthritis, tuberculosis or blood diseases like septicemea. Accidental death can occur if an elephant falls down a hill, or if it loses a fight with another elephant. Deaths from poaching still outnumber any natural or accidental occurrences of death in elephants.

(Estes, 1999; Payne, Langbauer, Jr., 1992; Moss, 1992)

Average lifespan
Status: wild:
70 years.

Average lifespan
Status: wild:
60.0 years.

Average lifespan
Status: captivity:
80.0 years.

Average lifespan
Status: wild:
70.0 years.

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Norwood, L. 2002. "Loxodonta africana" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_africana.html
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Morphology
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African elephants are the heaviest land animal, and the second tallest in the Animal Kingdom. They are a sexually dimorphic species; males appear larger than females. The height of a bull at his shoulder is about twelve feet (about 3.75 m), when the female’s height is nine feet (about 3 m). They have enormous ears, each measuring about four feet (120-125 cm) across. They have a unique nose that is simply a long, boneless trunk extending from the upper lip. The trunk usually measures about five feet long (about 150 cm) and weighs around 300 pounds (about 135 kg). The two finger-like projections on the tip are so dexterous they can pick a blade of grass. The trunk itself is so strong it is capable of lifting 600 pounds (250- 275 kg). Their incisor teeth develop into tusks about 8 feet long (245-250 cm) and can weigh about 130 pounds (60 kg) each. The only other teeth they have are four molars which are replaced three times throughout their lives after the previous set wears down. African elephants have dark gray skin which is scattered with black hairs that wear off through the years. As a result the adults are mostly hairless. Their skin is about 2 1/2 inches (2-4 cm) thick, but flies, mosquitoes and parasites still penetrate it. There are two currently recognized subspecies which differ in their geographic location, tusk length, and weight. Forest elephants, Loxodonta africana cyclotis, typically reside in rain forests. They have more slender tusks and are smaller in height and weight than savannah/desert elephants (Loxodonta africana africana) who usually are found in grasslands.

(Estes, 1999; CITES, 2001; Moss, 1992)

Range mass: 3600 to 6000 kg.

Average mass: 4540.00 kg.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: ornamentation

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Norwood, L. 2002. "Loxodonta africana" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_africana.html
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Associations
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The size of adult elephants leaves them invulnerable to wild animals. Humans are the only predators to adult elephants but calves are susceptible to be snatched away by lions and hyenas. If they sense a predator nearby, the largest cows instinctively herd the calves into a bunch around the matriarch. Next, they form circles around the cluster which creates protective layers that are impossible for predators to penetrate.

Known Predators:

  • lions (Panthera leo)
  • hyenas (Hyaenidae)
  • humans (Homo sapiens)
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Norwood, L. 2002. "Loxodonta africana" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_africana.html
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Biology
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Elephant society is highly complex and arranged around family units composed of groups of closely related females and their calves. Each family unit contains around ten individuals (6), led by an old female known as the 'matriarch' (2). Family units often join up with other bands of females forming 'kinship groups' or 'bond groups', and larger herds may number well over a hundred individuals (7). Male elephants leave their natal group at puberty and tend to form much more fluid alliances with other males. Elephants are extremely long-lived and although females may reach sexual maturity at ten years old they are at their most fertile between 25 and 45 (2). There is no distinct breeding season, although birth peaks in certain areas may relate to the local rainfall patterns (9). Calves are born after an exceptionally long gestation period of nearly two years, and continue to be dependent on their mother for several years (2). They are also cared for by other females in the group, especially by young females known as 'allomothers' (2). The social bonds between elephants are very strong and if faced with danger they will form a protective circle around the young calves, with the adults facing outwards and the matriarch adopting a threatening pose or even charging the intruder (2). Elephants care for their wounded and also show recognition of, and particular interest in, elephant bones (10). Elephant groups will spend the day wandering their home range in search of food and water (2). An adult elephant requires 160 kilograms of food a day; using their highly mobile trunk they pluck at grasses and leaves or tear at branches and bark with their tusks, which can cause enormous damage (7). Elephants can communicate over large distances and use some vocalisations that are below the range of human hearing (11).
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Conservation
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A ban on the international trade in elephant products including ivory was implemented in 1990, when the African elephant was added to Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), although the populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe have since been transferred to Appendix II (4). Indeed, sport hunting of elephants remains permitted under the legislation of a number of range states, and several countries currently have CITES export quotas for elephant trophies (1). Nevertheless, protection of the species has been high-profile in many countries, often involving armed guards, and the Kenyan Wildlife Service famously burnt a stockpile of tusks in protest against the ivory trade (7). The African Elephant Specialist Group (AfESG) of the IUCN/SSC (Species Survival Commission) has also set up a Human Elephant Conflict Working Group (HECWG) to address the issues of conserving a species that has the ability to be detrimental to a human population (14). Beyond the controversy surrounding the taxonomic status of African elephants, the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group (AfESG) believes that different approaches are needed for the different problems facing the elephant in each country and region, and conservation strategies are therefore developed at the national or regional scales (5).
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Description
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One of the most emotive of the megafauna and the largest living terrestrial animal, African savanna elephants inspire awe at their sheer size; the largest recorded individual reached a massive four metres at the shoulder and weighed ten tonnes (2). The thickset body rests on stocky legs and the back has a characteristically concave shape (2). African elephants have large ears to enable heat loss (6). Their upper lip and nose is elongated into a trunk that serves multiple functions, from a dextrous fifth limb to a sound producer and amplifier, and an important method of touch between individuals (2). The African elephant trunk ends in two opposing processes (or lips), which differs from that of the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), whose trunk ends in a single process (7). A further characteristic feature are the elephant's tusks, which are large modified upper incisors that continue to grow throughout their lifetime; in both sexes of the African elephant these are curved forward (7).
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Habitat
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The savanna elephant is found in a wide variety of habitats, such as forests, mopane and miombo woodlands, Sahelian scrub, and even deserts (for example, in Namibia and Mali) (8).
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Range
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The savanna elephant occurs largely in Eastern, Southern and West Africa (8), although populations are increasingly fragmented (6).
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Status
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Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix II on the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention) (3). Listed in CITES Appendix I in 1989, but the populations of the following Range States have since been transferred back to Appendix II: Botswana (1997), Namibia (1997), South Africa (2000) and Zimbabwe (1997) (4). Preliminary genetic evidence suggests that there may be at least two species of African elephants, namely the savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis). However, many conservationists believe there is as yet insufficient evidence to justify this distinction (5), and that premature allocation into more than one species may leave hybrids in an uncertain conservation status (1). For this reason, the IUCN Red List assessment is for the single species, encompassing both forest and savanna populations (1).
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Threats
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Elephants have been hunted over the centuries for their tusks, which are traded as ivory (2). In the 1970s to 80s, an increased demand in ivory had a negative impact on elephant numbers across much of the species' range (12). Kenya was one of the worst affected countries (8), where the population plummeted by perhaps as much as 85 percent between 1973 and 1989 (12). Today, one of the major issues in elephant conservation is the conflict between elephants and a growing human population (2). Up to 80 percent of the elephant's range occurs outside of protected areas, where they frequently cause widespread damage to agriculture and water supplies (13). This conflict often results in injury or death for both people and elephants (9).
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The African elephant according to MammalMAP
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African elephants (Loxodonta Africana)are the largest terrestrial animals that roam this planet, and can be found in 37 sub-Saharan African countries, and are most abundant in Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa.While elephant numbers in some countries are secure, in others the populations remain endangered. According to the IUCN Red List, they are classified as Vulnerable. This decline in numbers is mostly because of poaching for ivory, illegal hunting, and of course loss of habitat caused by the increase of the human population.

African elephants are easy to recognise with their big grey bodies, large ears, tusks and long trunks, which are used for handling food as well as communication, and contains about 100000 different muscles alone. They are 6 to 7.5 meters in length, stand more than 3 meters high and can weigh up to 6 tonnes! That is almost as heavy as 6 cars! The tusks, which are large modified incisors, grow throughout both a male and female elephant’s lifetime. In the wild, elephants can live up to 70 years.

Elephants eat fruit, leaves, roots, grasses and bark, and can consume up to 136 kilograms of food in one day. They don’t get much sleep as they roam across the land foraging for plenty of food to sustain their huge bodies.

Elephants have the longest pregnancy than any other mammalian species (22 months), and give birth to one calf every two to four years. Baby elephants weigh in at 90 kilograms already when born, and stand 1 meter tall. Calves are weaned after 6 to 18 months, and adult male elephants, or bulls, leave their herds to roam on their own, while female elephants (cows) live in herds with their infants.

Two subspecies of the African elephant is recognised, namely the savannah elephant and the forest elephant.Forest elephants are smaller and darker than savannah elephants, and have straighter tusks, while the tusks of savannah elephants curve outwards. The shape and size of the skull and skeleton also differs between the two subspecies.

For more information on MammalMAP, visit the MammalMAPvirtual museumorblog.


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African bush elephant
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The African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana), also known as the African savanna elephant, is the larger of the two species of African elephants, and the largest living terrestrial animal. These elephants were previously regarded as the same species, but the African forest elephant has been reclassified as L. cyclotis.

The bush elephant is much larger in height and weight than the forest elephant, while the forest elephant has rounder ears and a trunk that tends to be more hairy. The adult bush elephant has no predators other than humans. While the most numerous of the three extant elephant species, its population continues to decline due to poaching for ivory and destruction of habitat. Elephants are social animals, traveling in herds of females and adolescents, while adult males usually live alone. The desert elephant or desert-adapted elephant is not a distinct species of elephant, but are African bush elephants that live in the Namib and Sahara deserts.

Taxonomy

The African bush elephant and the African forest elephant were once considered to be a single species, but recent genetic studies have revealed that they are separate species and split 2 to 7 million years ago.

Differences between species

A detailed genetic study in 2010 confirmed that the African bush elephant and the African forest elephant are distinct species.[3][4] By sequencing DNA of 375 nuclear genes, scientists determined that the two species diverged around the same time as the Asian elephant and the woolly mammoth, and are as distinct from one another as those two species are from each other.[5] As of December 2010[update], conservation organizations, such as the United Nations Environment Programme's World Conservation Monitoring Centre and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), had not distinguished between the two species of African elephants for purposes of assessing their conservation status. As of March 2010[update], the IUCN Red List classified African elephants as a whole as vulnerable species and the Central African elephant population (forest elephants) as endangered.[2][4]

Another possible species or subspecies formerly existed; although formally described[6][7] it has not been widely recognized by the scientific community. The North African elephant (L. a. pharaohensis), also known as the Carthaginian elephant or Atlas elephant, was the animal famously used as a war elephant by Carthage in its many wars with Rome.

Characteristics and anatomy

The African bush elephant has several distinct features which sets them apart from other similar species. They are generally larger than the African forest elephant, which has rounder ears and straighter tusks. The bush elephant is known to have a concave back with stocky legs and a thickset body, compared to the Asian elephant who has a convex back.[8] The African bush elephant’s trunk has more than 40,000 muscles and tendons that allows them to lift heavy objects. They also tend to have dull brownish-grey skin that is wrinkly with black bristly hairs, large ears, and a long and flattened tail. The skull of the African elephant is very large, making up twenty-five percent of its total body weight.[9] The estimated population size is near 300,000, and they usually live up to 70 years in age when in the wild. However, in captivity, they tend to only live up 65 years.[10]

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    Female African bush elephant skeleton on display at the Museum of Osteology, Oklahoma City

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    Male African bush elephant skull on display at the Museum of Osteology, Oklahoma City

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    Skulls of African bush elephant(left) and African forest elephant(right)

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    Molar of an adult African bush elephant

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    A diagram showing the average size of adult African bush elephants, with the largest recorded individual also included

Molars and Trunks

African elephants utilize their long trunks and four large molars to break down and consume a large bulk of plants, shrubs, twigs, and branches. In particular, they use their trunks to strip leaves, break branches, dismantle tree bark, unearth roots, drink water, and even bathe. Without their trunks, these elephants would find their everyday routine of bathing, drinking, and eating considerably more difficult. Their molars, aiding in the consumption and digestion process, measures nearly 10 cm wide and 30 cm long, gradually withering away until the age of 15. Towards the age of 30, their baby teeth, also known as their milk teeth, are replaced by a new set which are substantially larger and stronger. As these elephants age, their teeth undergo two more stages of growth, ages 40 and 65-70, until the animal eventually dies from an inability to appropriately feed.[11]

Size

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A female African bush elephant, Loxodonta africana, in Mikumi National Park, Tanzania

The African bush elephant is the largest and heaviest land animal on Earth, being up to 3.96 metres (13.0 ft) tall at the shoulder and 10.4 tonnes (11.5 short tons) in weight (a male shot in 1974, near Mucusso, southern Angola).[10][12] On average, males are about 3.2 metres (10.5 ft) tall at the shoulder and 6 tonnes (6.6 short tons) in weight, while females are much smaller at about 2.6 metres (8.5 ft) tall at the shoulder and 3 tonnes (3.3 short tons) in weight.[10][13][14][15] Elephants attain their maximum stature when they complete the fusion of long-bone epiphyses, occurring in males around the age of 40 and females around the age of 25.[10] Their large size means that they must consume around 50 gallons of water everyday in order to stay hydrated.[9]

Behavior

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It has been suggested that this article be split into a new article titled Elephant behaviour. (Discuss) (April 2018)

Reproduction

Birthing of the African bush elephant hits its highest point just before the rainy season of each year. Females carry their young in the womb for about 22 months, known as the gestation period, and they normally give birth every five years.[16] When born, calves can almost immediately walk to maximize their chances of survival, however they tend to be dependent on their mother for a few years after birth. Newborns tend to weigh around 90–120 kg, but the average weight is around 100 kg.[17] Females also tend to reach sexual maturity at age 10, but they are most fertile from ages 25 to 45.[8] The mating system of the African bush elephant is known as androgynous (promiscuous). This type of mating includes females and males both pairing with several others at a time, also known as polygamy.[17]

Generation length of the African bush elephant is 25 years.[18]

Mating happens when the female becomes receptive, an event that can occur anytime during the year. When she is ready, she starts emitting infrasounds to attract the males, sometimes from kilometers away. The adult males start arriving at the herd during the following days and begin fighting, causing some injuries and even broken tusks. The female shows her acceptance of the victor by rubbing her body against his. They mate, and then both go their own way. After 22 months of gestation (the longest among mammals), the female gives birth to a single 90-cm-high calf which weighs more than 100 kg. The baby feeds on the mother's milk until the age of five, but also eats solid food from as early as six months old. Just a few days after birth, the calf can follow the herd by foot.[19]

Communication and adaptation

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Mud-covered elephant scratching on a tree to get rid of parasites in Etosha National Park, Namibia

African bush elephants have long tusks, up to 3.4 metres (11 ft) in length, which are used to help them adapt to their surroundings. They use their tusks for digging, fighting, marking, and feeding, and can lift objects up to 180 kilograms (400 lb).[20] Less-aggressive elephants are known to have larger tusks, being that they will be less likely to break them since they would use their tusks in a less damaging way. The bush elephant also uses their large, flat ears to create air currents. These air currents allow them to reduce their body heat and cool off during hot seasons of the year.[21] Another cooling technique that is used is their trunk to squirt water over its body or throw dirt onto their backs to reduce sun and insect exposure. Their trunk, along with their mouth, also allows them breathe and pick up food or heavy objects.[16] Although they spend most of their time roaming to look for food, they can communicate over long distances and use vocalizations that even humans cannot hear.[8] Other ways that the elephants communicate is through changes in posture and positure and positions of the body. They present visual signals and messages through body movement, along with smell to remain in contact with other herd members.[9]

Social behavior

Females and their young live in herds of 6 to 70 members.[17] A herd is led by the eldest female, called the matriarch. Males leave the herd upon adolescence to form bachelor herds with other males of the same age. Older males lead a solitary life, approaching female herds only during the mating season. Nevertheless, elephants do not get too far from their families and recognize them when re-encountered. Sometimes, several female herds can blend for a time, reaching even hundreds of individuals.[19]

The matriarch decides the route and shows the other members of the herd all the water sources she knows, which the rest can memorize for the future. The relations among the members of the herd are very tight; when a female gives birth, the rest of the herd acknowledges it by touching her with their trunks. When an old elephant dies, the rest of the herd stays by the corpse for a while. The famous elephant graveyards are false, but these animals have recognized a carcass of their species when they found one during their trips, and even if it was a stranger, they formed around it, and sometimes they even touched its forehead with their trunks.[19]

Musth

Male elephants experience musth, a period of extreme aggression and sexual behavior accompanied with high testosterone levels, lasting a period of 1 month or less.[22] A bull in musth has been known to attack anything which disturbs him including his family members, humans, and other passive animals such as giraffes and rhinoceros.[23] In one case, a young male African bush elephant has been witnessed killing a rhinoceros during musth.[24]

Ecology

The African bush elephant is a very active and social mammal, since they are constantly on the move in search of food. Males often fight with each other during mating season, however they are considered to be very loving and caring toward relatives.[25] Bush elephants also have strong social bonds, and when their herds are faced with danger, they tend to form a close, protective circle around the young calves.[8] The elephants also tend to use their trunks to engage in physical greetings and behaviors.[9]

Range and habitat

Bush elephants are found in Sub-Saharan Africa including Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Angola.[8] While they inhabit primarily plains and grasslands, they can also be found in woodlands, dense forests, mountain slopes, oceanic beaches, and semi-arid deserts. They range from altitudes of sea-levels to high mountains. Increasing fragmentation of habitat is an ongoing threat to their survival.[9]

Diet

The African bush elephant is herbivorous. Its diet varies according to its habitat; elephants living in forests, partial deserts, and grasslands all eat different proportions of herbs and tree or shrubbery leaves. Elephants inhabiting the shores of Lake Kariba have been recorded eating underwater plant life.[26] To break down the plants it consumes, the African bush elephant has four large molars, two in each mandible of the jaw. Each of these molars is 10 centimetres (4 in) wide and 30 centimetres (12 in) long.

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A bull elephant stretching up to break off a branch in the Okavango Delta, Botswana

This species typically ingests an average of 225 kilograms (500 lb) of vegetable matter daily, which is defecated without being fully digested. That, combined with the long distances it can cover daily in search of more food, contributes notably to the dispersion of many plant seeds that germinate in the middle of a nutrient-filled feces mound. Elephants rip apart all kind of plants, and knock down trees with the tusks if they are not able to reach the tree leaves.[19] Elephants also drink great quantities of water, over 190 liters (40 imp gal; 50 U.S. gal) per day.

African elephants browse and scavenge in order to sustain their health and massive body weight. As water becomes scarce, African elephants utilize their trunks, feet, and tusks to dig holes in dry streams and lake beds to obtain fresh water.[27] Due to climatic change, the diet of the African bush elephant will vary throughout the year. During seasons of prolonged rain, the diet of these elephant’s mainly consists of grass, berries, and vegetables. During seasons of prolonged drought, African elephants will browse and consume dry leaves, small shrubs, exposed roots, and withered tree bark, accounting for up to 70 percent of their diet.[28] Due to their massive size, the consumption of every plant component, including dry leaves, small twigs, large branches, and other types of shrubs, are edible. In particular, African elephants find specific nutrients such as fatty acids and sodium through different sources of tree bark and salt licks.[8]

Predators

The adult African bush elephant generally has no natural predators due to its great size,[29] but the calves (especially the newborns) or juveniles that are vulnerable to attacks by lions (especially in the drought months) and crocodiles, and (rarely) to leopard and hyena attacks.[8] An exception to this rule was observed in Chobe National Park, Botswana, where even adults were observed to have fallen prey to lions.[30][31] Aside from that, lions in Chobe have been observed for some time taking both infants (23% of elephant kills) and juveniles. Predation, as well as drought, contribute significantly to infant mortality. The newborn elephant, known as a calf, will normally stray from the herd at birth, placing themselves and their populations into a relatively low number for their species. Over the years, certain regions in Africa have been known to contain an abundant amount of the elephant carcasses. These graveyards are overpopulated by lions and hyenas who prowl and forage for the remains of an elephant corpse.[8]

Humans are the elephant's major predator. They have been hunted for meat, skin, bones, and tusks. Trophy hunting increased in the 19th and 20th centuries, when tourism and plantations increasingly attracted sport hunters. In 1989, hunting of the African bush elephant for ivory trading was forbidden, after the elephant population fell from several million at the beginning of the 20th century to fewer than 700,000. Trophy hunting continues today. The population of African bush elephants was halved during the 1980s. Scientists then estimated, if no protective measures were taken, the wild elephant would have been extinct by 1995. The protection the elephant now receives has been partially successful, but despite increasingly severe penalties imposed by governments against illegal hunting, poaching is still common. CITES still considers this species as threatened with extinction.[32]

Threats

Poaching

The African bush elephant is categorized as a high-risk endangerment animal, with the constant threat of poaching and predators on the rise. With the high demand for ivory in Eastern Asia, the black-market trade network has left the species close to extinction. Poachers target the elephant’s tusk for the ivory, and in some cases remove the tusk while the elephant is still alive. CITES reports the black market is believed to be the main culprit for targeting around 17,000 elephants in various areas.[33] Currently the species has been pushed further into reaching the stage of extinction. Poaching of the elephant has dated back all the way to the years of 1970 and 1980, which was considered the largest killings in history. Unfortunately, the species is placed in harm's way due to the limited conservation areas provided in Africa. In most cases, the killings of the African bush elephant have occurred near the outskirts of the protected conservation sites. There has also been cases of poaching the African bush elephant for meat, which has also led to its decline.[9] Areas found mostly in Central and Western Africa contain the greatest decline in the African bush elephants. IUCN’s statistical data concludes, the population has taken a great decline of 111,000.[34]

Human disturbance

Human interference plays a major role in the drastic decline of the elephant species. Vast areas, making up Sub-Saharan Africa, were transformed to agricultural and infrastructure use. The sudden disturbance among these areas leave the elephants without a stable habitat and limits their ability to roam freely. Large corporations associated with commercial logging and mining have stripped apart the land, giving poachers easy access to the African bush elephant.[11] As human development grows, the human population faces the trouble of contact with the elephant’s more frequently, due to the species desperate need for food and water. Farmers residing in nearby areas trouble with the African bush elephants rummaging through their crops. In many cases, the elephants are killed instantly as they disturb a village or forage upon a farmer’s crop.[32]

Conservation

Legal protection

The dramatic decline of the African bush elephant has resulted in various legal protections taking place in several states of Africa. Census reports show between the years of 2007 and 2014 there has been a decrease of 30% in the elephant's population. The current rate at which the population is declining, leaves researchers to believe every year the African bush elephant will decline by 8%.[35] Certain measures focus primarily on encouraging habitat management and protection with legal action. These legal protections restrict the species from being harmed by poachers and other wildlife threats. Regions known as Range states, are responsible for ensuring certain areas inhabited by the species are preserved. The decline of the species was brought to attention worldwide in 1989. During this time, officials placed a ban stating the elephants could no longer be hunted for the ivory found in their tusks. Currently, many conservation areas are limited, and at least 70% of the species' range resides in areas which are not protected by the law.[35]

Status

The population of the African bush elephants continues to gradually decrease.[9] It has been reported that their current rate of decline is eight percent per year, mostly due to poaching.[36] In most parts of the world this species is labeled as an endangered. Since 2004, the IUCN Red List considered the elephants to be an vulnerable species.[37] On average scale there is a decline of 200,000 elephants based on the sudden increase of human populations occupying the habitats of the species. Estimates show the entire species could possibly go extinct in a decade. The debate of whether the species should fall under the classes Appendix I or Appendix II species has been argued between several regions. If a given region determines the African bush elephant to be Appendix I all international trade will be prohibited, but if the species is placed under Appendix II officials will only monitor and limit the amount of elephants traded in the black market. Areas found in Gabon and Congo are considered to contain the largest number of the African bush elephant population, while in parts of Central African Republic, the species is entirely wiped out. The IUCN monitors the elephant's population regularly to understand what conservation methods are effective and the distribution among the population. The decline is beginning to show greatly across various countries, which leaves the existence of the population in question.[37]

Conservation measures

While the species is designated as vulnerable,[38] conditions vary somewhat by region between East and Southern Africa. The populations in Southern Africa are thought to be increasing at 4% per annum whilst other populations are decreasing [38]

In 2006, an elephant slaughter was documented in southeastern Chad by aerial surveys. A series of poaching incidents, resulting in the killing of over 100 elephants, was carried out from May to August, 2006 in the vicinity of Zakouma National Park.[39] This region has a decades-old history of poaching of elephants, which has caused the population of the region, which exceeded 300,000 in 1970, to drop to about 10,000 today. The African bush elephant officially is protected by Chadian government, but the resources and manpower provided by the government (with some European Union assistance) have proven insufficient to stop the poaching.[40]

Human encroachment into or adjacent to natural areas where the African bush elephant occurs has led to recent research into methods of safely driving groups of elephants away from humans, including the discovery that playback of the recorded sounds of angry honey bees are remarkably effective at prompting elephants to flee an area.[41]

See also

References

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African bush elephant: Brief Summary
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The African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana), also known as the African savanna elephant, is the larger of the two species of African elephants, and the largest living terrestrial animal. These elephants were previously regarded as the same species, but the African forest elephant has been reclassified as L. cyclotis.

The bush elephant is much larger in height and weight than the forest elephant, while the forest elephant has rounder ears and a trunk that tends to be more hairy. The adult bush elephant has no predators other than humans. While the most numerous of the three extant elephant species, its population continues to decline due to poaching for ivory and destruction of habitat. Elephants are social animals, traveling in herds of females and adolescents, while adult males usually live alone. The desert elephant or desert-adapted elephant is not a distinct species of elephant, but are African bush elephants that live in the Namib and Sahara deserts.

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