Savannah and Forest Elephants
The majority of elephants in Africa are savannah elephants. These form the largest elephant subspecies in the world, and they live in the grass plains and bushlands in East and South Africa, including Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa. About a third to a quarter of elephants in Africa are forest elephants, another subspecies. These elephants live in the Congo Basin area, but their population has suffered enormously from poaching.
The Savannah elephants are easy to recognize by their exceptionally large ears. The sizeable ears radiate heat and keep the animals cool. Their upper teeth grow into tusks, which continue to grow through the elephant's life. Male elephants use their tusks for fighting each other, but the tusks are also used to strip off bark from trees and to dig for water or for food.
African elephants eat grass (especially in the rainy season when it grows in abundance), roots, bark from trees, fruit and many plants. An elephant needs a lot of food and can eat as much as 300 pounds each day. Elephants can move long distances when looking for food, and they do not need much sleep.
The long trunk functions as a nose, and it contains approximately 100 000 muscles. An elephant uses its trunk for breathing, drinking water, smelling or making the recognizable trumpeting sound. At the end of a trunk are two features that resemble fingers, and these the African elephant uses to handle objects (such as food). Elephants also like to suck water in through the trunk and spray it on themselves to cool down in the heat.
Elephant Herds and Families
A typical herd of elephants is made of hundreds of female elephants and their calves. The herds are also grouped into smaller family units. The leader of the herd is a female elephant. Each elephant family in the herd usually consists of ten female elephants and all their calves. The males generally move alone, and they only visit the females in the mating season. The female elephants give birth every two to four years, and they give birth to just one calf. An elephant's pregnancy lasts nearly 22 months, and a newborn calf can be 3 ft tall and weigh 200 pounds.
Poaching for the ivory trade has killed many African elephants. The trade in ivory is now illegal, but it still exists and presents a danger to elephant populations in Africa.
Most National Parks have a population of elephants, but if you specifically want to see large herds then contact our staff as population levels can vary depending on the time of year - elephants are great wanderers. Amboseli and Tsavo in Kenya have good populations, as does Tarangire in Tanzania. In Southern Africa, Chobe in Botswana and the Kruger in South Africa also have large herds.
To watch our video of elephants in the wild, please visit our YouTube channel.