There are actually two types of elephant in Africa, the African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta Africana) and its smaller cousin the African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta Cyclotis), and, as the map below shows, both can be found across sub-Saharan Africa living in forests, the desert areas of Mali, woodlands or savannahs. The African Forest elephants are mainly located around the Congo Basin and account for 25-33% of the African elephant population. The African elephant is around 13 ft tall and typically lives for 70 years, however they lose their teeth by the time they are sixty years old, with starvation a major cause of death for this reason. They feed on grasses and leaves as well as shoots, sugarcane and even bananas. They will eat 300-400lbs of food over 16 hours and drink 370 pints of water a day.
Female elephants, "cows", tend to live in groups of ten and up and are led by an older elephant whilst males prefer to live on their own after reaching puberty at around 14yrs though spending some time with other "bulls". After mating, gestation is 22 months. Females give birth to calves one every few years during their most fertile years (25-45yrs) and, at birth, these calves are already 3ft tall, weighing 200 lbs. They are looked after by the female group who all learn parenting skills. For obvious reasons, elephants are closely associated with their 6ft long 309lb trunks, a fifth 'limb' that contains some 100,000 muscles ~ but no bones ~ that has two small opposable "fingers" at its end which are used to control small objects. The trunk is used for breathing and smelling just like a human nose, but also for drinking, trumpeting and grabbing objects as well as being used as a weapon and as part of the elephant's mating ritual.
Like humans, dolphins and apes, elephants are intelligent creatures with a brain as structured and complex as a human one. Certainly they have demonstrated evidence of play, humour, self-awareness, memory, language and grief. They communicate using their ears as expressions but also by 'rumbling'; the emitting of low octave sounds below human hearing range which can be heard from up to six miles away. Whilst the elephant does not have any animal predators, not least because its the world's largest mammal, although lions may prey on the young or weak, their greatest threat is from man who poaches them for their ivory tusks and alleged global warming which is threatening to heat up their natural habitats leading to poorer foraging conditions.
There were some 3-5 million elephants across Africa last century, however the loss of 100,000 each year to hunting prior to the imposition of an international ban on ivory trading from 1990, has seen their population decline with the African elephant now being classified a 'threatened species.' It is currently estimated there are 450,000 - 700,000 elephants in Africa and illegal poaching continues. Now check out our LIVE elephant webcam broadcasting from Tembe National Park in South Africa here.
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