The African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana), also referred to as the African savanna elephant, is the biggest living terrestrial animal, reaching a shoulder height of about 3.96 m (13.0 ft).
|Scientific Name||Loxodonta africana africana|
Evolution and classification
The African Bush Elephant is the largest of all animals on land today with a few of them having a weight of over 6 tons. It is assumed that the Elephant was named after the Greek word for ivory, indicating that Elephants were named after it unusually long tusks.
While during the last ice age many of the ancestors of the African Bush Elephant were extinct (including the Woolly Mammoth), today there are three different species of Elephant left, which include the Asian Elephant, the African Bush Elephant and the African Forest Elephant.
The African Bush Elephant is usually considered to be larger than the African Forest Elephant, which has rounder ears and straighter tusks, although these two elephant species are somewhat similar.
Anatomy and appearance
With the male African Bush Elephant reaching up to 3.5 meters in height and the female being slightly smaller at about 3 meters tall, the African Bush Elephant is the largest known land mammal on Earth. The body of an African Bush Elephant can also grow to 6 – 7 meters in length.
The African Bush Elephant’s tusks can be almost 2.5 meters long and usually weigh between 50 – 100 pounds, which is nearly the same weight as a small adult human being. African Bush Elephants have four molar teeth, with each weighing approximately 5.0 kg and about 12 inches in length.
As the front pair of molars in the mouth of an African Bush Elephant wears down and drops out in pieces, the back pair moves forward, and two new molars appear in the back of the mouth of the African Bush Elephant.
African Bush Elephants can replace their teeth about six times in their lives. Still, when the African Bush Elephant is between 40 and 60 years of age, it can no longer replace its teeth and is likely to die of starvation.
This is, unfortunately, a common cause of elephant death in the African wilderness.
Distribution and habitat
While its ancestors’ historical range stretched right into the Arctic Circle, nowadays the African Bush Elephant is mostly found in nomadic herds in central and southern Africa, roaming the plains and grasslands of Africa grazing for food and looking for waterholes.
The African Bush Elephant occupies the grassy savanna plains and shrub-land of the African continent in groups that include mothers and their calves, unlike the significantly smaller African Forest Elephant.
African Bush Elephant herds usually contain about ten individuals, but it is not unusual for family groups to come together, forming a clan that may have more than 1,000 elephants. This very social lifestyle means that on the open African plains, the African Bush Elephants are less vulnerable.
Behaviour and lifestyle
The African Bush Elephant is not only an amiable animal but also a very productive animal. African Bush Elephants are nomadic species, meaning that they are constantly on the move in search of food, so moving within these family herds allows them to have stronger protection from predators
The African Bush Elephant’s trunk is one of its most distinguishing characteristics, and this extra-long nose is not only versatile enough to gather and consume food but can also collect water.
Its trunk, as well as its tusks, can also be used to protect itself from predators such as Lions, and to battle with other male African Bush Elephants during the mating season.
African Bush Elephants are often known to be brilliant and emotional creatures, exhibiting behaviours that include giving and receiving affection, caring deeply for the young, and mourning dead relatives.
Reproduction and life cycles
African Bush Elephants appear to live relatively long lives, with the average life span between 60 and 70 years.
Female African Bush Elephants achieve sexual maturity (can reproduce) after 10 or 11 years but are believed to be most fertile between 25 – 45 years of age.
Nevertheless, male African Bush Elephants frequently do not attain sexual maturity until they are almost 20 years old.
The female African Bush Elephant delivers a single calf following mating and a gestation period of up to 2 years (twins have been reported but are incredibly rare).
The African Bush Elephant calf is nurtured for about two years, but until it is old enough to fend for itself (around six years old), it will remain under the care and safety of the herd.
The tusks of the young African Bush Elephant will begin to develop at this point.
Diet and prey
The African Bush Elephant, despite its enormous size, is a herbivorous animal, meaning that it lives on a diet consisting primarily of plants and plant matter.
The majority of the diet of the African Bush Elephant is composed of leaves, branches and bushes, which are stripped using its trunk.
The African Bush Elephant even feeds on fruits and grasses, using its enormous tusks to search for roots in the ground and to peel the bark of trees.
Food is fed into its mouth with the help of its trunk, and the African Bush Elephant’s big, flat teeth are the ideal tool to grind down the vegetation and course plants so that they can be digested quite easily.
Predators and threats
The African Bush Elephant has no actual natural enemies to threaten its existence, mainly because of its sheer size and the fact that African Bush Elephants mostly stay within the protection of the herd.
African Bush Elephants are the peaceful giants of Africa and can be seen co-inhabiting the African wilderness with other large mammals and birds without problems.
In the animal world, Hyenas and Lions may sometimes be able to pick off a young African Bush Elephant that has been separated from its mother and has also been known to attack adults that are old and sick, hence more vulnerable.
Humans who poach the African Bush Elephants for their ivory tusks are the greatest threat to their survival, together with habitat destruction across the continent.
In the early 19th century, the tale of the African Bush Elephant was quite different, with up to 5 million elephants estimated to have roamed the African continent. However, Africa’s Bush Elephant population is believed to have dropped as much as 85 per cent in certain areas due to the higher demand in ivory.
Some say that the large ears of the African Bush Elephant are shaped somewhat like Africa. However, these large flaps of skin are not only for hearing; they are a vital instrument in keeping the Elephant cool in the heat of Africa.
Like many of the herbivores found across Africa, the calves will begin to walk at birth to increase their chances of survival. An adult African Bush Elephant can consume up to 50 gallons of water every day and can suck 1.5 gallons of water into their trunks at a time.
Relationship with humans
Unfortunately, the African Bush Elephant population has taken a devastating decline towards extinction due to an increase in outside interest in Africa and its exotic wonders (particularly towards the middle of the 20th century).
African Bush Elephants have disappeared from most of their native habitat after being brutally slaughtered by poachers for years for their ivory.
In 1989, a global elephant ivory hunting ban fell into effect after numbers had dropped so drastically across the continent. The African Bush Elephant is now scarce in northern and central parts of Africa and restricted to protected areas.
While the story is similar in the south, South African Elephant populations are believed to do better with an estimation of 300,000 elephants in the country.
While recovering today, African Bush Elephant populations continue to be endangered by rising levels of illegal poaching and destruction of habitats.
Deforestation in the territory of the African Bush Elephant indicates that both their food and shelter are lost, leaving them more vulnerable in the wild.
Despite the ban, poachers hunting elephants for their ivory tusks are also always threatening the African Bush Elephants.