African elephant: Did you know that an elephant is born blind, but able to walk in the first minute? Elephants are very interesting animals and the more you know about them, the more you realize how much of a big deal they really are.

31 facts about the African elephant that will surprise you.

While there are Asian elephants as well, the focus of this article is the African elephant species that are found in most parts of Africa. This article highlights some few, that are easy to understand – without requiring you to break out a science book (or Google).

Let’s dive into the facts and find out how many you already knew about, and how many took you by shocking surprise.


1. Types of African elephants

There are two kinds of African Elephants. The Savannah (Bush) elephant and the Forest elephant. Like their names suggest, Savannah Elephants live in savannah plains while forest elephants live in forested areas.

The Bush elephants are bigger in size and have tusks that curve upwards. The Forest elephants are smaller, and their tusks point downward, to avoid being tangles in the forest cover of their habitat.

2. Size of an elephant

African Bush Elephants are the biggest land animals in the whole world. With the tallest recorded elephant being at 4.21 meters (13 feet 9 inches), and the heaviest weighing over 10 tonnes an elephant is a massive animal.

The African forest elephant is not as big as its savannah counterpart and therefore weighs less – falling in the range of the heaviest of hippos, or rhinos. The hippopotamus is the second heaviest, and the white rhino is the third heaviest of all land mammals.

3. Weight of an African elephant

An adult elephant can weigh up to 6 tonnes (6,000 kilograms). The heaviest recorded individual elephant was 3.9 meters tall and weighed 10 tonnes.

On Average, the African bush elephant weighs from 5000 to 6000 kilograms. The African forest elephant weighs between 2700 to 3200 kilograms.

With those numbers, you can see how the African bush elephant qualifies as the heaviest and biggest land animal.

4. Height of an African elephant.

if you are wondering if elephants are tall, the simple answer is Yes. Elephants can be as tall as 4 meters tall. That means that an elephant can be twice as tall as Michael Jordan.

African Bush Elephants can range from 3.2 to 4 meters in height at the shoulder. African forest elephants are considerably shorter than savannah elephants, and their height ranges from 2.2 to 2.6 meters at the shoulder. This height difference is an adaptation for the forest elephants to be able to move through thick forests easily.

5. An elephant’s huge ears

Their massive ears are useful in reducing body heat. By flapping them, the air current is created and the exposed inner ears have large blood vessels to release the heat.

African elephants live in Savannah areas which are really hot for much of the year. Adding to the fact that they are very big in size, elephants need the effective cooling system that the huge ears provide.

6. Difference between forest and bush elephants

The Back of an African Bush Elephant is Slightly curved, while that of an African Forest elephant is relatively straight (flat). The Forest elephant has a darker colour compared to the bush elephant.

If you can see the skin (safe to use binoculars,) you will also be able to notice that African Forest Elephants have quite a bit more fur than the Savannah Elephant.

The forest elephant has down-ward pointing tusks while the African Bush elephant has tusks that curve out-word and point ahead. The down-pointing tusks make it easy for the forest elephant to move in the thick forest.

In places (like Queen Elizabeth National Park) where both forest and bush elephants exist, you might be able to see an elephant that seems to have a mix of the two types. That is because it is. Such an elephant is a crossbreed of the African bush elephant and the African forest elephant.

7. Why elephants have Tusks

An elephant uses its tusks for many purposes such as defending itself, and digging roots and removing the bark of trees for food. Tusks help an elephant when defending itself from predators such as lions that occasionally attack elephants.

8. Are elephants born with Tusks?

No, Elephants are not born with tusks. A young elephant’s tusks start growing after about 1 year. Both male and female elephants can grow tusks.

The deciduous teeth/ milk teeth/ baby teeth the tusks grow from are called tushes and they are replaced by tusks when the calf is one year old. Tusks keep growing for the entire life of an elephant.

9. How big can elephant tusks be?

An elephant’s tusks can grow to be as long as 2.5 meters and weigh more than 40 kilograms. Because the forest elephant stays in dense forests, its tusks are adapted to be smaller and downward pointing.

Intermixing of the two subspecies (forest & bush elephants) has led to smaller tusks. It is thought that smaller tusks are the elephants’ coping mechanism to avoid being killed by merciless poachers who sell wildlife parts as trophies.

10. Why is one tusk of an elephant slightly shorter?

Like humans and other primates, elephants can also prefer using one tusk over the other. This is the same way, left-handed people use their left hands more that they do with their right hands. This means that the tusk that does most of the work will somehow wear down faster and become slightly shorter than the other one.

You can therefore easily know that an elephant is either ‘left-tusked’ or ‘right-tusked’.

11. How fast can an elephant run?

The massive size of an African elephant makes one ask the question of how fast does an elephant run? An elephant runs faster than you would guess based on its size.

Elephants run at speeds of up to 40 kilometres per hour (25 miles per hour). Humans run at an average speed of 45 kilometres per hour, which is slightly faster than an elephant.

This means that for most of us who don’t run on a regular basis, an elephant will be able to run faster than us.

12. Do elephants swim?

Yes. Elephants are very good at swimming. An elephant’s big body helps in floating as the legs help it propel to the desired direction.

While swimming, elephants can raise their trunk and use it as a snorkel for breathing. This is why they swim for much longer periods of time. African elephants have been recorded to swim for 6 hours [non-stop] and covering a distance of close to 50 kilometres across water bodies.

13. What do elephants use the trunk for?

An elephant uses its trunk for smelling, touching, feeding, producing sounds and well as defending or attacking during a fight. As stated above, the trunk also serves as a snorkel for an elephant when it is swimming underwater.

14. How strong is an elephant’s trunk?

The trunk is a very strong organ that elephants use for its everyday survival. An elephant’s trunk is strong enough to lift 3% of the elephant’s body weight. This means that a mature bull of 6 tonnes can very easily carry 180 kgs. 180 kilograms is the weight of 3 average adult humans.

The trunk is thought to have contained about 40,000 – 60,000 muscles. This is why the trunk of an elephant is very strong. The trunk can grow to be as tall as 6 feet – sometimes even 7 feet long.

15. Eyelashes of an elephant

An elephant’s eyelashes are almost 13 cm (5 inches) long. They are the longest eyelashes on any animal.

The long eyelashes prevent dust and other particles from falling into the eye of an elephant. They also work as windbreaks and help to keep the eyes from drying up due to the wind.


16. Where do African elephants live?

African elephants – like the name suggests, are found in Africa. More specifically, African elephants are found in Sub-saharan Africa – the portion of Africa that lies below the Sahara desert.

African Elephants can be found in Countries such as Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, DRC, and other countries in Eastern and Western Africa.

African elephants can also be found in zoos around the world such as the San Diego Zoo in the USA.

17. Where can you see elephants in Uganda?

African elephants can be seen in various places in Uganda. You can see elephants at the National Zoo in Entebbe or by visiting the various national parks which have elephants. Elephants can be found in the following national parks of Uganda.

  • Murchison Falls National Park (Bush elephants)
  • Kidepo Valley National Park (Bush elephants)
  • Queen Elizabeth National Park (Bush elephants, and very few forests elephants)
  • Semuliki National Park (Forest elephants)
  • Kibale Forest National Park (Forest elephants)
  • Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Forest elephants)

While forest elephants are present in many places, they are in fewer numbers and can hide deep into the forest – making it hard to get to them.

18. Why should you visit Uganda for African Elephants?

Because Uganda’s western border is shared with DRC where much of the forest elephants are found. This, together with the savannah elephants in the rift valley plains of Queen Elizabeth National Park makes it possible to see both species at ago.

In Kibale or Semuliki National Parks, you will be able to see a number of forest elephants, while in Queen Elizabeth National Park (a few hours drive in between) you will see even bigger herds of bush elephants. The closeness of these parks to each other means that you can see the various species in the same day.


19. How many elephants live in a herd?

Elephants live in herds of various sizes, ranging from 8 to 100 individuals. Elephants live in family units comprised adult cows, their daughters, and subadult sons. Each unit is led by an older cow, also known as the matriarch.

Bush elephants are more cohesive and can be found in large family groups. This is very important for safety reasons since the savannah has many predators.

Forest elephants live in smaller herds. This could be due to a smaller threat of predators in their habitat.

20. Are elephants intelligent?

Yes, elephants are very intelligent. This is a trait they share with humans, apes, and some dolphin species. The brain structure of an elephant is exactly similar to that of humans.

The brains of an elephant weigh more than 5 kilograms (11 pounds). It is no wonder that they are praised for having the best memory.

21. How often do elephants produce?

A female elephant reaches sexual maturity at the age of 10 to 12 years and can start reproducing until she is 45 years old. While elephants reach maturity at 12 years, the best fertile age is after 25 years of age.

A female elephant will give birth once every 3 to 6 years. This means that it will have had 7 offsprings by the age of 50 years.

22. How long does it take for an elephant to give birth?

The gestation period of an elephant is 22 months. In some Asian elephant some species, this period is said to be shorter – at 18 months. All African elephants, however, do give birth after 22 months of pregnancy.

A baby elephant (calf) is born weighing around 90 kilograms (200 pounds). Elephants are born blinds and get their sight later on. An elephant’s calf is, however, ready to walk at birth.

An elephant calf is raised and cared for by all the older females in the herd. For elephants, it does literally take a village.

23. How long do elephants usually live?

Elephants live up to 70 years old. Most elephants die naturally when they are between 60 and 70 years old.

This natural death in elephants is mainly caused by starvation due to the loss of teeth. When an elephant’s teeth have been worn out, the elephant won’t be able to eat and will eventually die of starvation (more on this in the diet section below).

24. Do elephants have a superb hearing?

Yes, elephants have great hearing. Their big ears and the soles of their feet are all very developed hearing organs that can enable an elephant to hear the call of another elephant that is 4 km away.

Elephants made two kinds of vocalizations in their communication, one which we can identify with our own ears and the other that is beyond our hearing capability. These ‘supersonic’ vocalizations are used to communicate over much longer distances.

25. Are elephants emotional?

Yes, elephants very emotional animals.

They can recognize what other elephants are feeling, and try to give a hug with their trunk. An elephant will sometimes offer a hug to a different species or its caretaker (at the zoo) as a way of showing compassion and love.

Elephants can exhibit a variety of behaviours such as grief, learning, mimicry, use of tools, memory, self-awareness, and possibly language. This further connects them with intelligent species such as primates (of which we belong). You will find that gorillas are also able to express emotions the same way elephants and humans.


26. What do Elephants eat?

Elephants are Herbivores. This means that elephants only eat vegetation such as grasses, shrubs, leaves, and fruits.

Elephants do not eat meat or fishes of any kind.

27. How Much do elephants eat?

An elephant can eat up to 450 kilograms of food every day. An elephant drinks around 180 litres (50 gallons) of water each day. African Elephants spend much of their day walking for food, which makes them walk an average of 25 kilometres on a daily basis.

Depending on the conditions, an elephant will be able to walk 150 kilometres in a single day while searching for food.

While elephants do eat a lot of food, their digestive system is not very efficient. About 40% of an elephant’s food is digested, and the remainder is passed out as it was eaten.

28. Is the trunk important in eating?

Yes, the trunk helps an elephant in pulling and tearing leaves and branches from trees. The trunk is also useful in picking up grasses and fruits which are on the ground and raising them up to the mouth – like a fork.

An elephant also uses its trunk for drinking water – like a straw. The trunk of an elephant can hold up to 12 litres of water. In short, the trunk is like a knife, fork, and straw for an elephant. An all-in-one ‘dinner table accessory’.

29. Do elephants have teeth?

Yes, of course, elephants do have teeth.

Elephants have 4 molars, each weighing around 5 kgs (11 pounds) and measuring about 30 cm (1 foot) in length. Due to their use, the elephant’s teeth can wear out and fall out in smaller pieces.

Elephants are able to replace their worn-out teeth from 4 to 6 times in their lifetime. When the last of an elephant’s molars are worn out (after 40 years old), it will be unable to eat and therefore die of starvation.


30. Conservation status of African Elephants

Elephants are listed as Vulnerable species in the International Union for Conservation of Nature – IUCN Redlist, since 2004.

This simply means that the threats to their survival should be reduced, and if not, then they will become endangered and keep heading towards extinction.

Among the major threats to the survival of elephants is, poaching – for ivory(from the tusks) and loss of habitat to human activity. Other factors such as political instability also make conservation work extremely difficult and accelerate the situation.

31. How many (African) elephants are left in the world?

There are an estimated 400,000 African elephants left in the world. The biggest numbers are found in protected areas where their habitat protection is well enforced by governments.


So there you have it, the facts about elephants that really do make them very interesting. We had so much fun learning these facts about the massive African elephant and we hope you had much fun discovering more about these incredible animals.

We would like to Know, which fact (or two) was most surprising to you. You can also share your most surprising fact with your friends too (Share/Tweet).

With this article, we hope your interest in elephants is raised and you can contribute towards their conservation. One of the ways you can make sure that these animals are conserved is through sustainable tourism. With sustainable tourism, the lives of the elephants (and other animals) are not negatively affected by the interaction with humans.

When you take a wildlife Safari in any of Uganda’s National Park, your funds go towards conserving the habitat of the animals, as well as boosting local communities. Boosting local economic activity helps involve every community member to actively engage in conservation efforts.

We can help you plan a tour to see elephants and all the other incredible animals and attraction in Uganda and Rwanda. Let us know what you would like to see and do in Uganda or Rwanda. Just send us a safari inquiry and we’ll plan for you a safari that really fits all your interests and budget.

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