2 elephants with their trunks together overlay facts about the african elephant

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Seeing the African elephant trudging across the savanna grassland with a mesmerising sunset in the background is a huge draw for visiting Africa. Going on a safari in Africa would not be complete without spotting these majestic giants. Standing up to 4 meters tall, these beautiful animals are the largest land mammals walking on earth.

Herd of 3 elephants with baby in Chobe National Park in Botswana
Herd of elephants with baby in Chobe National Park in Botswana

What is the difference between the African Elephant and the Asian Elephant?

  • Standing between 2.5 – 4 metres on the shoulder, the African elephant is the largest living land mammal on earth. A bull elephant can weigh up to 6 tonnes while a female elephant will weight half of this.
  • Compared to the Asian elephant, the African elephant is taller, has larger ears and is more difficult to domesticate.
  • You can mainly recognise the African elephant by the shape of their ears, which are not only larger than their Asian counterpart but also have somewhat the shape of the African continent.
  • Another interesting difference between the African and the Asian elephant is that with the African elephant, both male and female can have tusks.
3 Elephants taking a mud bath in Etosha National Park with springboks standing around
Elephants taking a mud bath in Etosha National Park

Behaviour of the African Elephant

  • The African elephants have very strong family relationships and females join together in big herds with their offspring for the rest of their lives, led by the oldest female, the matriarch. The young males will separate from the female herd as soon as they reach puberty between the age of 14 to 16 years. After that, they will roam the bush by themselves or form a small herd with other males and only join the females again to mate.
  • The gestation period is the longest of any animal and takes almost 2 years. The female herd is very protective of their calves and mostly you’ll see them in the middle of the group with the bigger females standing around them.
  • Female African elephants are in their most fertile period when they are between the age of 25 and 45 years old.
  • Elephants can communicated with each other over very long distances, making low frequency rumbling sounds.
  • You can often see the African elephant flapping their ears. They do that to cool down and regulate their body temperature, since their ears contain many blood vessels. When they are flapping very calmly means that they are relaxed and comfortable. When you see them flapping more firmly and shaking their heads means that they are trying to intimidate you and that you came too close. In this case, you better move slowly away from the elephants.
Baby elephant trying to escape the herd of elephants
Baby elephant trying to escape the herd

What do African Elephants eat?

  • Elephants roam over great distances in search of water and food. For the most part of the day, they are foraging through the bush eating leaves or sticks or drinking water by a waterhole or river.  Whereas some animals can go days without drinking, water is very important for the elephant as they need to drink on a daily basis. On average an adult elephant can eat up to 150 – 200 kg of food and they drink around 120 litres of water a day. Their diet consists mainly out of grasses, fruits, roots, shrubs and leaves.
  • Another interesting facts about African elephants is that their skin can get sunburnt. That’s why you will often see them spraying themselves with water or taking a mud bath to cool off. Before leaving the waterhole they’ll cover themselves with dust in order to protect their skin from insects and the sun.
3 Elephants drinking by the waterhole in Etosha National Park
Elephants drinking by the waterhole in Etosha National Park

Some other random fun facts about African elephants

  • With their calm movements and imposing physical presence, these gentle giants are fascinating animals to watch, in addition they are very photogenic. However young calves are mostly very playful. You’ll often see them playing together, trying to find various uses for their trunks and sometimes be very brave and charge the safari vehicle, which at times is just hilarious.
  • Even if the African elephant seems to have a very tranquil and gentle nature, they are considered as one of the notorious Big 5 (which is the classification for being the most dangerous animals to hunt while on foot), together with the leopard, buffalo, rhino and the lion.
  • Botswana has the largest elephant population of the African continent. The best place in Botswana to see the African elephant is in Chobe National Park. Especially during the dry winter months, hundreds of elephants can be seen at the shore of the Chobe river.
  • The best place in South Africa to see lots of elephants is in Addo Elephant National Park. This park is located close to Port Elizabeth and forms part as one of the highlights to visit on the famous Garden Route.
  • In Namibia, the biggest change to see elephants is in Etosha National Park. Read all about travelling to Namibia in this Namibia travel guide.

Their grandeur gives them respect in the animal kingdom. They are the true gentle giants of the African bush.

Male elephant in Chobe National Park in Botswana in black and white
Male elephant in Chobe National Park in Botswana

Have you seen a herd of elephants on your African safari?

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