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African elephants are elephants of the genus Loxodonta. The genus consists of two extant species: the African bush elephant and the smaller African forest elephant. Loxodonta is one of two existing genera of the family, Elephantidae. Fossil remains of Loxodonta have been found only in Africa, in strata as old as the middle Pliocene.

  • Scientific name: Loxodonta
  • Height: African bush elephant: 11 ft.
  • Higher classification: Elephants
  • Gestation period: African bush elephant: 22 months
  • Mass: African bush elephant: 12,000 lbs, African forest elephant: 6,000 lbs
  • Lifespan: African bush elephant: 60 – 70 years, African forest elephant: 60 – 70 years

Description

One species of African elephant, the bush elephant, is the largest living terrestrial animal, while the forest elephant is the third largest. Their thickset bodies rest on stocky legs, and they have concave backs. Their large ears enable heat loss. The upper lip and nose form a trunk. The trunk acts as a fifth limb, a sound amplifier, and an important method of touch. African elephants’ trunks end in two opposing lips, whereas the Asian elephant trunk ends in a single lip. In L. Africana, males stand 3.2–4.0 m (10–13 ft) tall at the shoulder and weigh 4,700–6,048 kg (10,360–13,330 lb), while females stand 2.2–2.6 m (7–9 ft) tall and weigh 2,160–3,232 kg (4,762–7,125 lb); L. cyclotis is smaller with male shoulder heights of up to 2.5 m (8 ft). The largest recorded individual stood four metres (13.1 ft) at the shoulders and weighed 10 tones (10 long tons; 11 short tons).

Teeth

Elephants have four molars; each weighs about 5 kg (11 lb) and measures about 30 cm (12 in) long. As the front pair wears down and drops out in pieces, the back pair moves forward, and two new molars emerge in the back of the mouth. Elephants replace their teeth four to six times in their lifetime. At about 40 to 60 years of age, the elephant loses the last of its molars and will likely die of starvation, a common cause of death. African elephants have 24 teeth total. Six on each quadrant of the jaw. The enamel plates of the molars are fewer in number than in Asian elephants.

The elephants’ tusks are firm teeth; the second set of incisors becomes the tusks. They are used for digging for roots and stripping the bark from trees for food; for fighting each other during mating season; and for defending themselves against predators. The tusks weigh from 23–45 kg (51–99 lb) and can be from 1.5–2.4 m (5–8 ft) long. Unlike Asian elephants, both male and female African elephants have tusks. They are curved forward and continue to grow throughout the elephant’s lifetime.

Distribution and habitat

African elephants are found in Eastern, Southern, Central, and West Africa, in dense forests, mopane and miombo woodlands, Sahelian scrub or deserts.