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The elephant is the largest land animal on earth. History is peppered with information about the economic, religious and cultural significance of this majestic animal in various civilizations.

The modern-day elephant belongs to the order Proboscidea. This 350 member order dwindled as majority succumbed to extinction. The Asian elephant and the African elephant are the only two surviving members of this order. But, like their predecessors, these two species are facing a grim future


Why should I be aware of this?

  • The African elephant, which once roamed the entire continent of Africa, is now found in scattered areas south of the Sahara.
  • In 1930, there were between 5 and 10 million African elephants. By 1979, there were 1.3 million. They were added to the international list of the most endangered species in 1989 as their numbers had dwindled to 600,000 or less than 1% of their original number.
  • The Asian elephant inhabited the area between Syria and northern China and the islands of Indonesia. They are now found in isolated patches in India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia.
  • Demand for ivory, human wildlife conflict has led to a dramatic decline in elephant populations in the last few decades.

How does this affect me?

  • Elephants are considered a keystone species in the African landscape.
  • They pull down trees, break up bushes, create salt licks, dig waterholes, and forge trails.
  • Other animals, including humans, like the pygmies of the Central African Republic, depend on the openings elephants create in the forest and in the waterholes they dig.
  • Even elephant droppings are important to the environment. Baboons and birds pick through dung for undigested seeds and nuts.
  • The nutrient-rich manure replenishes depleted soil.
  • Some seeds do not germinate unless they have passed through an elephant's digestive system.

All about elephants

  • Elephants are warm-blooded mammals.
  • They have backbones.
  • Elephants have fur that keeps them warm.
  • They live anywhere from 60 to 80 years.
  • Elephants eat plants and not meat.
  • Elephants typically reach puberty at thirteen or fourteen years of age
  • They have offspring up until they are around fifty years old
  • When baby elephants come out of their mothers, they weigh more than 200 pounds.
  • Male elephants are larger than female elephants.
  • Elephants communicate through snorts, squeals, trumpets and infrasound.
  • Elephants cry, play, have incredible memories, and laugh!
  • Elephants have greeting ceremonies when a friend that has been away for some time returns to the group.
  • Elephants grieve at a loss of a stillborn baby, a family member, and in many cases other elephants.

Asian elephant

  • The Asian elephant is more closely related to the extinct mammoth than to the African elephant.
  • It has an enormous domed head with relatively small ears.
  • An Asian elephant has five toes on the front of the feet and and four on the back.
  • A large bull could typically weighs six tons and is ten feet high at the shoulder.
  • Adult females are about half the size of the largest males.
  • The males have tusks and the females have 'tushes', which are shore second incisors that just stick out beyond the upper lip. However, it is important to note that on occasion females some times have longer tushes than described.

African elephants

  • The African elephant, Loxodonta Africana, have a straight back, enormous ears, and two trunk 'fingers'.
  • African elephants are named for the peculiar shaped ridges of their molar teeth; the ridges of an African elephant's teeth are coarser and fewer than those of the Asian elephant.
  • The African elephant has only four toes on the front feet and three on the back. Interestingly, it has one more vertebra in the lumbar section of the spine.
  • Both sexes have tusks, and they are also larger in size as compared to male and female Asian elephants.
  • The largest African elephant recorded weighed over nine tons and stood more than twelve feet high at the shoulder.
  • As in Asian elephants, the female African elephant is generally half the size of a fully grown male.

Why are elephants endandangered?

There are two factors responsible for elephants becoming an endangered species.

  1. Ivory -- The huge market for ivory has been the primary reason behind poaching. This has had tragic consequences for African elephants. Their numbers dropped from over 10 million individuals in 1900 to only 600,000 in 1989. Ivory is used in making jewelry and figurines. Piano keys were also once made almost exclusively of ivory earlier, though now the practice has ceased.
  2. Human wildlife conflict --Conflicts between humans and elephants are an increasing issue. The ranges of many elephant herds now extend outside protected refuges, and elephants frequently come into contact with farmers, eating or otherwise destroying crops. Increasing human settlement in areas inhabited by elephants are likely result in more conflicts over time.

Project elephant

Project Elephant is a conservation scheme launched by the government of India. It was launched in February 1992 to provide financial and technical support to major elephant bearing States in the country for protecting their habitats and corridors. It also seeks to address the issues of human-elephant conflict and welfare of domesticated elephants.

Elephants and the environment

Elephants play a vital role in the environment and the ecosystem they live in.

  • In the Savannah region, elephants modify their habitat by converting savannah and woodlands to grasslands.
  • Elephants dig water holes in dry riverbeds. The depressions created by their footprints and their bodies trap rainfall which provide water for other species.
  • Elephant droppings play a useful role in dispersing seeds. From the fecal matter, the seed is often carried below ground by dung beetles and termites causing the soil to become more aerated and further distributing the nutrients.
  • The paths created by elephants act as firebreaks and rain water conduits.
  • An Elephants journey through the high grass provides food for birds by disturbing small reptiles, amphibians or insects.


  • Studies show that elephants have both self-awareness and chemical and brain responses that are similar to those shown in humans under similar study conditions.
  • Elephants have six teeth, some of which are continually replaced, much like sharks.
  • African elephants care for wounded individuals and are unique in that they identify and look after elephant bones.
  • As much as 80% of what elephants consume is returned to the soil as barely digested highly fertile manure.

What can I do?

  • Please don't ever buy Ivory.
  • Save an elephant and make your money work for them not against them.
  • If you travel to exotic places or even to a shopping mall near you, never buy anything that looks like ivory as it probably is.


  • About elephants
  • Ivory wars Did you know?
  • Did you know? Elephant Bites
  • Elephants
  • Project Elephant
  • Endangered Mammals - Elephants