Fun Facts About Elephants

elephant species, conservation
Credit: Elephant image Shutterstock

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Proboscidea

Family: Elephantidae

Genus: Elephas (Asian); Loxodonta (African)

Species: Elephas maximus (Asian); Loxodonta africana (African)

Subspecies: L. africana africana (savanna elephant), L. africana cyclotis (forest elephant); E. maximus indicus (Indian elephant), E. maximus sumatrensis (Sumatran elephant), E. maximus maximus (Sri Lankan elephant), E. maximus borneensis (Borneo Pygmy elephant).

Basic elephant facts:

The elephant is the largest land animal on Earth. The African species stands about 8.2 to 13 feet (2.5 to 4 meters) tall and weighs 5,000 to 14,000 pounds (2,268 – 6,350 kilograms). Slightly smaller, the Asian elephant stands about 6.6 to 9.8 feet (2 to 3 m) tall and weighs 4,960 – 12,125 pounds (2,041 to 4,990 kg).

Elephants don't start out small like some mammals. Instead, a baby elephant typically stands about 3 feet (1 m) tall and weighs about 200 pounds (91 kg).

The most distinguishing features of the elephant are its long nose (or trunk) and large, floppy ears. The elephant's trunk does more than smelling and breathing like a normal nose — it's also used for drinking, snagging food and sending out loud trumpeting noises.

Elephants' floppy ears also do more than hear. With loads of tiny veins transecting their surfaces, carrying blood to the rest of the body, elephant ears act like a cooling system. As they flap their wet ears the blood in these veins is cooled, and the cooled blood is circulated around the elephant's body.

The average lifespan of an elephant in the wild is 60 to 70 years.

As herbivores, elephants eat bark, grasses, fruits and roots. An adult elephant can consume up to 300 pounds (136 kg) of food in one day.

Where elephants live:

The African elephant can be found in 37 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. They typically occupy dense forest, open and closed savanna, and grasslands, and to a lesser extent the arid deserts of Namibia and Mali.

The Asian elephant can be found in scrub forest and the rainforest edge in India, Nepal and other places in Southeast Asia.

Conservation status: Asian (Endangered); African (Vulnerable)

The conservation status of elephants varies across species and location, but these animals do face threats from hunters, who kill elephants for their ivory tusks, habitat loss and human encroachment.

The African elephant species has been listed on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Animals as vulnerable for West Africa and Eastern Africa; least concern for Southern Africa; and endangered for Central Africa.

The Asian elephant is considered endangered on the Red List. Its population is believed to be on a downward trend. This elephant lives in regions of the world with the densest human population. Because of their size, the elephant is one of the first animals to feel the impact of growing human population. 

Odd elephant facts:

The largest elephant on record weighed about 24,000 pounds (10,886 kg) with a height of 13 feet (3.96 m).

The elephant has such sensitive skin that it can feel a fly landing on it.

Elephants can hear one another's trumpeting calls up to 5 miles (8 kilometers) away.

Other resources:

World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

San Diego Zoo

International Elephant Foundation (IEF)

African Wildlife Foundation (AWF)

Smithsonian National Zoological Park

Sea World

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