One of the most exciting animals to see on safari is the beautiful African elephant. Following the footsteps of these grand creatures and watching them in their natural habitat is a rare and wonderful sight; and unlike their Asian cousin, the African elephant is not easy to tame. They are born for the wild and there is much to learn about them.
Here are 10 incredible facts about African elephants that you can share with the kids or the whole family before your next safari trip…
1. African elephants are of the genus Loxodonta (derived from Greek) and this includes the two core species; the African bush elephant and the African forest elephant (which is smaller).
2. African elephants can be differentiated from Asian elephants from their more wrinkled skin, their larger size, their larger ears which reach up over their neck, their concave back (Asian elephants have a straight back), and having more rings on their trunks.
3. In addition to the visible physical differences from its Asian relative, the African elephant also has an extra pair of ribs (21 pairs instead of 20).
4. The African elephant is the world’s largest land animal and they can be more than 7 metres long, 3 metres high and the biggest of the species can weigh more than 6 tonnes!
5. The elephant’s large ears, which are much bigger than the Asian elephant’s ears, are there to serve many different purposes. The size of the ears create a wide surface area to radiate excess heat in hot climates, they also help to improve the elephant’s hearing to make out sounds from up to 4km in distance, and finally they are also used as a communication tool with other animals.
6. The ears, along with the tail, eyes and trunk of an elephant are also used for communication. Rapid ear flapping can mean excitement or aggression, a swishing or wagging tail can signify happiness, and head shaking can mean that they feel threatened and/or are trying to intimidate. But please don’t be too alarmed if you spot any of these actions on safari as sometimes elephants will flap their ears to cool themselves down – so it’s all about reading their body language as a whole.
7. The African elephant has been known to dribble. But not from the mouth as you might expect. They can sometimes be seen dribbling from their temples and it is believed that this is a heightened state of testosterone in males and can occur with stress or excitement. But beware, as it could be a sign that the male is in ‘musth’ and they can become aggressive.
8. The elephant’s gestation period is 22 months, which is longer than any other land animal on the planet. New born calves can weight up to 260 pounds which is more than 30 times the weight of an average human baby.
9. There are a whole range of sounds that an African elephant can make and this range covers 10 whole octaves. But the most common form of audio communication from an elephant is ‘rumbling’, a low frequency sound that is used to make long distance calling noises to others.
10. Elephants rely heavily on their bonds with other elephants as having a healthy social network is critical for their survival. This makes them incredibly sociable creatures and herds are often led by an older matriarch with mothers, sisters and female cousins sticking closely together. Males tend to leave their herds around 14 years of age and they will roam with other males to search for suitable mating partners.
Get in touch if you want to find out more about seeing these incredible animals in the wild!