African elephant

African Elephant – facts about the African elephant

African elephant once roamed the vast plain continent of Africa from the northern coastal fringes of the Mediterranean along the valley of the Nile, and the south of the vast Sahara Desert down to the cape of good hope. Vast hers of these magnificent beasts roamed the interior at will. From high mountain pastures to coastal mangrove swamps, through dense tropical jungle to open grasslands and savannah, even in the harsh, arid semi deserts of the Sahel and Kalahari, the African elephant roamed unhindered.

facts about African elephant

Sadly, the concentration and diversity of wild animals in this part of world might be thing of a past if we dong focus on wildlife conservation. The African elephant has been driven from its natural range which spanned the vast continent and now lives mostly in areas of sanctuary and protected areas in Africa and some part of Asia.

Facts about Africa elephant 

The African elephant is divided into 2 distinct sub-species, the larger bush elephant (loxodonta Africana) and the smaller forest elephant (loxodonta Africana cyclotis). All references in this article are to the better known and more widely spread bush elephant though, of course the stories from the tribal groups that live in equatorial forest regions, such as the pygmy, and Efik, refer to the forest elephant.

The distribution of the forest elephant, as shown in the map corresponding very closely to the equatorial forest zone as shown in the map above. The forest elephant has adopted and involved to lie in the dense jungle where its small size no doubt makes feeding and movement much easier in the dense undergrowth. Larger bush elephant, on the other hand, is far wider spread and has adapted to eating a wider range of vegetation as found in the varying dominant plant species in the other zones. In ancient times the only area that was not inhabited by elephants was the barren and waterless Sahara Desert.

The elephant, like most of the larger species of African wildlife, is now confined to national parks ever-diminishing areas of wilderness. These areas are carefully managed to ensure that the healthy environment is maintained for all members of the animal and plant community. Some large species, such as elephant and buffaloes, must at times be culled to prevent their numbers.

Human beings and the African elephant both evolved over millions of years on the African continent. But as human population grows, it seems to be at the expenses of the wilderness. we can only hope that people will have the compassion and the common sense to protect and leave intact the few remaining areas of wilderness so that future generation can witness and enjoy the magnificent elephant, the” Grey Ghost of Africa”  

African elephant

African elephant species – (loxodonta Africana)

Male                                     Female

Height at shoulder 10ft (3m)           9ft (2.75m)

Weight 11,000lbs (4,980kg)               7,700lbs (3,490kg)

Weight at birth 264lbs (120kg)        264lbs (120kg)

Age at weaning 2years                      2 years

Gestation period                               22months

Number of young                              1 calf

Life span 50-60 years                         50-60 years

Adult bulls are often solitary or form loosely associated bachelor groups. Females live in the groups, daughters normally remaining in their mother’s family group for life. The family unit is the core of elephant society and closely related females form larger herds from time to time. These temporary herd gathering can number up to 200 animals. The elephant real enemy is people who hunt them for their meat and especially their ivory, which is actually specially adapted incisor teeth. Tough scavengers and predators, such as lions, will eat off the carcass of a dead elephant. Adult do not fear predation, but mothers are highly protective of their young one which, if they got lost could be killed or preyed upon by lions or hyenas.

Elephants are born six sets of teeth, but only one set is in use at a time. As these molars become worn, the next set grows forward to replace them. As the last set of teeth wear down, the animal is no longer able to chew its food properly and will slowly starve. With the wear rate of their teeth, elephants can only live to a maximum age of about sixty years.

Tooth                        age in years

M1                                                 1

M2                                                 2

M3                                                 6

M4                                                 15

M5                                                 28

M6                                                 57

Elephants identification

Being the largest land mammal, the identification of the African elephant should cause no problems. Their massive size, huge bodies, stout legs, large ears, and long trunks make the elephant unique among animals.

Habitat

Elephants can be found in a wide range of habitats ranging from grassy, open woodland to dense forest, and even high up on mountains. This is possible because of the variety of vegetation an elephant can eat.

The elephant is capable of undertaking large scale migrations when seasonal variation in food and water supply demand and they can cross rivers, lakes, and mountain ranges. However, these are now a thing of the past as human encroachment on the few remaining areas of wilderness has confined elephants to reserve and sanctuaries.

Habits

African elephant is a highly social animal and lives in well-structured family groups varying in size from two to twenty animals. These family groups are ruled by a mature female called the matriarch. Most of day to day decision on when and where to feed or drink are decided by the matriarch, whose years of experience tell her what seasonal food sources are ripe and ready to eat.  The younger animals in the family group learn by example from their elders and the collective knowledge of a herd can span many generations.

While daughters normally remain with their mother’s family group, male usually leave the breed herd when they are adolescents of about 12 to 14 years of age. These young bulls either live solitary live or form loosely associated “bachelor” herds, youngsters learning from the mature bulls, but free to go their own way at will.

Elephant can congregate into large herds in times of drought or when subjected to heavy poaching pressure, and herds of up 200 animals have been recorded. The larger hard are really temporary association of many family groups and are often inter related.

 Elephant love drinking water and are excellent swimmers. They will normally drink every day when water is readily available, but can go 3 or 4 days between drinks in hard times. A large bull can drink over 53 galloons (200liters) at a time by filling his trunk with water and then squirting it down his throat. Young African Elephant that have not yet mastered the use of their trunks can be seen kneeling at the water edge and drinking with their mouths.

After drinking, African elephant spend long periods bathing and wallowing in the mud and this is obviously a time of play and enjoyment for them all, no matter how old! Their activities at water holes and the mud they carry off on their hides helps create and develop many pans and water holes.    

How does African elephants communicate?

It has been discovered that African elephant communicate with each other not only in close proximity by touch, gesture, or loud rumblings and squeals, but also over long distances. African elephant utilizes low frequency sound, known as infrasound, which carries over long distances and is below the human range of hearing. Infrasound enables herds to keep in contact over a large areas and is a useful means of warning scientists were mystified as to how African elephant could act in unison, even when they were scattered over large areas and unable to see each other, until the secrete of infrasound was discovered.

The elephant also has an excellent sense of smell and, again, this is assisted by its trunk. The trunks are actually a fusion of the nose and upper lip which evolved over the last sixty million years. Elephants are often seen raising their trunks to smell the breeze and this helps them detect other elephants and also possible danger long before they can see it. The trunk contain thousands of muscles is sensitive enough to pick up objects as small are barriers, yet strong enough to tear down branches. It is also an excellent snorkel and helps the animals to breath when swimming.

What does African elephants eat? – elephants diet

African elephant and their diets, they both graze and browse, eating a wide variety of leaves, flowers, fruits, roots, tree bark, and grass. During the rainy season, when the grass is at its most succulent and nutritious, it forms the basis of the elephant’s diet. As the dry season progresses the diet changes to include more leaves, tree bark, and roots.

A larger bull elephant can eat up to 660 lb. (300kg) of food in a day, while females eat about 440 lb. (200kg). weather reaping clumps of grass, or part in harvesting such a large diet. Whether reaping clumps of grass, picking up berries one by one, these act would be impossible without trunk. During the dry season the elephant uses its trunk to tear down branches that would otherwise be beyond its reach.

Because of its huge size and bulk, an elephant is capable of pushing over large trees to get their foliage. It also uses its tusks to gouge and loosen tree cores of trees such as the baobab which can cause the tree to die or collapse. Many consider the elephant to be a wasteful feeder because of the damage it does to trees, but many trees will produce new shoots. This action by the vegetation, or flora, allows many other animals to utilize this food source that otherwise would not have been made available to them had not it been for the elephants destructive feeding habits.

As the elephant has to spend most of the day feeding to obtain enough food, it is forced to be active by day and by night and it often feeds during the night. Such a large proportion of its time is spent on the move that the elephant has to snatch quick cat naps and snooze at irregular intervals.

How do African elephants breed?

The African elephant has the longest gestation period of any mammal, taking 22 months. Mating normally occurs during the rainy season when the more nutritious diet brings most of the females that do not already have infants, into season. This ensures that the young are born during the rainy season, 2 years later. This is not always the case, though birth is predominantly during the rains.

Until recently it was not known that “musth” occurred in the African elephant, as it has been known to do in its Indian cousin for centuries. Musth is the name for the seasonal peak in male’s readiness for breeding. It is signaled by a noticeable discharge from a gland in the animal’s temple and a noticeable increase in aggressiveness. Musth can occurs at any time of the year, but is more common during the rainy season and occur at same time of year in an individual animal.

Facts about African elephant gestation

When a female comes into season she is accompanied by a dominant bull, usually one in musth, for a period of 3 days or so when mating takes place. The dominant musth bull will fight with any other bull that tries to take over as her consort.  Serious injury is usually avoided as most bulls in an area know each other and have already established their dominance hierarchy. serious injury and, on occasion, death, can result if such a fight is allowed to develop.

When a cow ready to give birth she usually moves away from the herd, but is often accompanied by the matriarch and one or two close female relatives. The birth is usually announcing by a great deal of excitement and general ruckus, but the mother, helped matriarch, will normally keep curious well-wisher at a distance for couple of hours. The calf learns to suckle quickly and assisted by the mother to find her breasts. These are situated between her front legs, which is unusual in most four-legged animals. The calf suckles with its mouth, curling the trunk up and to one side so that it does not get in the way. The calf will usually suckle for the first 2 years before being weaned.

The youngster will start eating solid foods after a couple of months, learning what to eat from its mother. The young grow up in a caring, loving family group and will be protected and cared for by all in the group. As with humans, it’s in the childhood years that an elephant learns all that it needs to know in later life.

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