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ANIMAL
OF THE WEEK
Once known as the Siberian tiger because of where it lived, it is now referred to as the Amur, named after the Amur River in Russia where many of these tigers now live. read more >

South African bush elephant

Scientific name: Loxodonta africana africana


CLASS: Mammalia
ORDER: Proboscidae
FAMILY: Elephantidae

FEEDING TYPE: Herbivore
STATS: Height: 7.5–13 ft. at shoulders, Weight: 5,300–14,000 lbs.


DESCRIPTION:
The African elephant is the largest living land animal. Its skin is a dull brownish grey color with scattered black bristly hairs. The color of an elephant's skin can differ from region to region because it often tosses mud or dirt onto its back, making it the color of the regional soil. The tail is long and flattened with wire-like black hairs on the end. African elephants have very large, flat ears. In both males and females, one incisor tooth on each side of the upper jaw is very large and forms a tusk.

Elephants are known for their muscular, long trunk with finger-like structures on the upper and lower surface.

RANGE:
Throughout Africa, from the Cape of Good Hope to the Mediterranean Sea.

HABITAT:
Open savannah to scrub forest, equatorial forest.

ADAPTATIONS:
Elephants have the following adaptations that help them survive in the wild.

  • Tusks can measure up to eleven feet in length and are used for digging, fighting, marking, and feeding. The largest tusks generally grow on animals with mild temperaments because they are less likely to break them.
  • Ears are large and have an extensive supply of blood vessels. When it is hot, elephants will flap their ears to create air currents across the ears and reduce excess body heat.
  • Their activity level is both diurnal and nocturnal but elephants are always very inactive during the hottest part of the day.
  • The trunk is an amazing appendage that can pick up food, examine items or move heavy objects. The trunk (along with the mouth) is used for breathing. An elephant can also use its trunk to suck up water, which is then squirted into its mouth or sprayed over its body for cooling.
  • Elephants will use their trunks to throw dirt onto their backs. This helps protect them from the sun and biting insects. Cool mud or dirt also helps the elephant cool its body.

REPRODUCTION / GROWTH:
Birth may occur at any time of the year but birthing seems to peak just before the rainy season after a gestation of 22 months. One calf is normal but there has been rare documentation of twins being born. Females give birth about every five years.

The parents will wait until the young are strong enough to roam, usually about two days. Calves are weaned between six and 18 months. During optimal conditions, animals become mature between ten and 11 years of age. If conditions are harsh, maturity might not occur for up to 22 years.

PREY / PREDATOR:
Prey to: humans, lion, and crocodiles when young / Predator to: none

WILD DIET:
grasses and trees

STATUS:
Listed as Vulnerable, by IUCN, due to habitat destruction and poaching. African elephants are not considered an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.

SPECIAL NOTES:

  • Elephants can be very destructive to vegetation because of their large size and enormous appetite. Now that elephants cannot roam as freely throughout Africa, the elephant will unknowingly modify its environment. This modification occurs through knocking down trees for food or to show agression. Due to this habitat modification, some countries have been forced to cull elephant herds to prevent them from destroying their own food supplies.
  • Sedgwick County Zoo is dedicated to the care of its elephants and the protection of wild elephants. As part of our conservation mission, we support The International Elephant Foundation. Over 90% of this foundation's money goes to support conservation, education, and research projects that help wild elephants in human care.
  • The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is comprised of caring, trusted experts committed to ensuring that elephants are part of the world’s future. Through our conservation, education, and research programs, elephants in our care play an essential role in the survival of the species in the wild. AZA advocates on behalf of elephants with a unified and consistent voice, and collaborates with others committed to the long-term survival of elephants. to learn more about elephants and what you can do to help this magnificent species visit elephanttag.org.
     

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

  1. Nowak, Ronald M. Walker’s Mammals of the World: Volume II; John Hopkins University Press, 1991 p914
  2. IUCN Red List  June 5, 2008

Published: October 2008

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