A brief description of the Elephant

Elephant – They are large mammals of the family Elephantidae in the order Proboscidea. They are scattered throughout sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. All elephants have several distinctive features, the most notable of which is a long trunk ( also called a proboscis ), used for many purposes, particularly breathing, lifting water and grasping objects. Their incisors grow into tusks which can serve as weapons and as tools for moving objects and digging.

The Elephant’s large ear flaps help to control their body temperature. Their pillar-like legs can carry their great weight. African elephants have larger ears and concave backs while Asian elephants have smaller ears and convex or level backs. The word “elephant” is based on the Latin elephas which is the Latinised form of the Greek ἐλέφας.


What are the Elephants habitat and characteristics?

Elephants are herbivorous and can be found in different habitats including savannahs, forests, deserts, and marshes. They prefer to stay near the water. They are considered to be a keystone species due to their impact on their environments. Other animals tend to keep their distances from elephants while predators such as lions, tigers, hyenas, and any wild dogs usually target only young calves.

Elephants have a fission-fusion society in which multiple family groups come together to socialize. Female elephants tend to live in family groups, which can consist of one female with her calves or several related females with offspring. The groups are led by an individual known as the matriarch, often the oldest female.


Male elephants leave their family groups when they reach puberty and may live alone or with other males. Adult males mostly interact with family groups when looking for a mate and enter a state of increased testosterone and aggression known as musth, which helps them gain dominance and reproductive success.

Calves are the center of attention in their family groups and rely on their mothers for as long as three years. Elephants in the wild can live up to 70 years. Elephant intelligence has been compared with that of primates and cetaceans. They appear to have self-awareness and show empathy for dying or dead individuals of their kind.


What is the Anatomy and morphology of the elephants?

Elephants are the largest living terrestrial animals. African bush elephants are the largest species with males typically being 3.20m ( 10.50ft ) tall at the shoulder and 6 000kg ( 13 200 lb ), while females stand  2.60m ( 8.53ft ) tall at the shoulder and with a body mass of 3 000kg ( 6 600 lb ). Male Asian elephants are usually about 2.75m ( 9.02ft ) tall at the shoulder and 4 000kg ( 8 800 lb ) whereas females are 2.40m ( 7.87ft ) tall at the shoulder and 2 700kg ( 6 000 lb ) in body mass.

African forest elephants are the smallest of the species, usually being around 2.20m ( 7.22ft ) tall at the shoulder and 2 000kg ( 4 400 lb ) in body mass. Male African elephants are typically 23% taller than females, whereas male Asian elephants are only around 15% taller than females. The skeleton of the elephant is made up of 326 – 351 bones. The vertebrae are connected by tight joints, which limit the backbone’s flexibility.


African elephants have 21 pairs of ribs while Asian elephants have 19 to 20 pairs. An elephant’s skull is resilient enough to withstand the forces generated by the leverage of the tusks and head-to-head collisions. The back of the skull is flattened and spread out, creating arches that protect the brain in every direction. The skull contains air cavities ( sinuses ) that reduces the weight of the skull while maintaining overall strength. Like all mammals, an elephant can raise and lower its temperature a few degrees from the average in response to extreme environmental conditions.

What is the function of an elephant’s ears?

The elephant’s ears have thick bases with thin tips. The ear flaps, or pinnae, contain numerous blood vessels called capillaries. Warmblood flows into the capillaries, helping to release excess body heat into the environment. This occurs when the pinnae are still and the animal can enhance the effect by flapping them.

Larger ear surfaces contain more capillaries, and more heat can be released. African bush elephants live in the hottest climates and have the largest ear flaps. Elephants are capable of hearing at low frequencies and are most sensitive at 1 kHz (in close proximity to the Soprano C).


What are the elephant tusks?

The tusks of an elephant are modified second incisors in the upper jaw. They replace deciduous milk teeth at 6 – 12 months of age and grow continuously at about 17cm ( 7in ) a year. A newly developed tusk has a smooth enamel cap that eventually wears off. The dentine is known as ivory and its cross-section consists of crisscrossing line patterns known as “engine turning”, which create diamond-shaped areas.

Much of the tusk can be seen outside; the rest is in a socket in the skull making it difficult to remove it without harming the animal. The tusks serve multiple purposes such as digging for water, salt and roots; debarking or marking trees; and for removing trees and branches when clearing a path. When fighting they are used to attack, defend, and protect the trunk.


Who is the biggest elephant in the world?

The biggest elephant in the world was an African Elephant in Kenya named Satao. He lived from 1968 in the Tsavo East National Park until he was killed with a poisoned arrow by poachers on 30th May 2014. He was known as a tusker because his tusks were so long that they almost touched the ground. His tusks were over 2.0m ( 6.5 feet ) long. Due to the great value of his tusks on the black market, Satao had been under nearly constant surveillance by the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Tsavo trust for the 18 months prior to June 2014.

In March 2014, Satao was found with two seeping wounds in his flank from poisoned arrows shot into him, which were confirmed by veterinarians who rushed to the scene to treat him. After a number of days, Satao recovered from his festering wounds and was last spotted alive on 19 May 2014.


On 2 June 2014, Richard Moller of the Tsavo Trust found a huge elephant carcass lying in a swamp near the boundary of Tsavo East National Park. The tusks had been cut off and the face was badly mutilated, so the carcass could not be identified with certainty at the time. For about 10 days Moller and Kenya Wildlife Services searched for Satao before concluding that he was dead. He was killed by a poisoned arrow shot deep into his left flank on 30 May 2014. Satao was officially declared dead on 13 June 2014.

A few facts about elephants:

  • These magnificent mammals spend between 12 to 18 hours of eating grass, plants, and fruit every single day. They use their long trunks to smell their food and lift it up into their mouths.
  • With all that eating it means there is a lot of poo. Each elephant creates about one tonne of droppings per week which keeps the soil fertile and disperses tree seeds. Elephants also dig waterholes and create footpaths which literally change the landscape around them.
  • Elephants have created their very own sunscreen. After a river or swamp bath, they will throw mud and sand up and over themselves to protect their skin from the hot, burning sun.
  • The brain of an elephant weighs 4.5 – 5.5kg ( 10 – 12 lb ) compared to 1.6kg ( 4 lb ) for a human brain.
  • The heart of an elephant weighs 12 – 21kg ( 26 – 46 lb ). It has a double-pointed apex, an unusual trait among mammals. When standing the elephant’s heart beats approximately 30 minutes per minute.