Safari Adventures: The Largest Land Mammal

I have done so much research on African elephants over the years that I found the easiest way to keep track of all the information is with lists. I also have learned that I barely have scratched the surface in understanding the complex nature of these wonderful animals. This blog mostly focuses on African elephants with the occasional reference to the Asian elephant group.

There are 3 kinds of elephants: African bush, African forest and Asian.

African elephants are physically larger in size than their Asian counterparts.

African: height and weight

10 feet tall

13,000 pounds

African Forest: 6,000 pounds

Asian elephants: height and weight

9 feet tall

8,800 pounds

Main body parts of elephants

Tusks: ivory

  • Massive teeth that don’t fall out. They keep their tusks for their whole lives and don’t grow new ones.
  • Use their tusks for digging, stripping bark off trees, lifting objects and gathering food
  • African females and males have tusks. Only Asian male elephants have tusks.

Every animal depends on fresh water to survive, and sometimes it’s hard to find it in their harsh habitat. Elephants use their tusks to dig for water. What springs up, other animals can also drink.

POACHING: Elephants are illegally killed for their ivory tusks so that people can make carvings, statues, and jewelry/trinkets (a symbol of wealth). They are also killed for trophy hunting. There’s a world-wide ban on poaching—which is the illegal killing of animals for their body parts.

Two main threats for the African elephants:

  • Poaching of their ivory tusks
  • Habitat loss, human-wildlife conflicts (such as wild animals eating the plants in a farmer’s field)

One solution: Bee fences to keep elephants off of farmers’ fields

Sometimes the naughty elephants have to be physically moved to a new location away from conflicts.

Two main threats for Asian elephants:

  • Habitat loss
  • Being forced into the tourism industry (When humans ride an elephant, it means that cruel and brutal treatment was inflicted upon the animal to get him to comply).


  • Elongated nose and upper lip
  • Can be as long as 7 feet on a full grown African elephant
  • It’s both like a nose for smelling and fingertips for plucking leaves off of tree branches.
  • Can suck up about 2 gallons of water into their trunk, then they pour it into their mouths.


Elephants are herbivores. They eat leaves, grasses, fruit, roots, and bark.

Elephants are also seed dispersals. They eat the plants/vegetation, allowing for new plants to grow. They walk for miles and as they digest. They poop out the seeds, spreading seeds to other parts of the habitat. The seed dispersal is a very important part of maintaining the grasslands ecosystem of the Serengeti.


On an African elephant

  • The ears are large and in the shape of the continent of Africa
  • Use the ears to keep themselves cool. The surface area serves as a heat radiator. They increase their blood supply to their ears and then flap them around to lose body heat.
  • Skin of the ear is very thin and the blood vessels are close to the surface. If you held up the ear to the light, you could see the veins.
  • The flapping creates a small breeze to help in the cooling.

Asian elephants tend to live in shady forests and don’t live in extreme heat so they have smaller ears.


Elephants roll around in mud or water to cool themselves. The mud acts like sunscreen to protect their sensitive skin from burning.


The herd: Elephants are very social creatures and don’t thrive by themselves, especially the females.

  • 3-25 elephants in a herd. Complex and emotional behavior
  • A herd is made up of a female leader called the matriarch. She’s the oldest and most knowledgeable.
  • The group consists of grandmother, aunts, mothers, daughters, babies, and young bulls (not old enough to leave the group yet).
  • Male teens and adults live separately, sometimes alone and sometimes with a few other bulls.
  • The older females teach their offspring about survival–how to be a proper caretaker to the younger members, where the best watering hole is, how to find food, how to use their trucks to forage on leaves, etc.
  • Baby: calf
  • Bull: male
  • Cow: Female
  • Matriarch: female leader


  • They have big brains that weigh up to 10 pounds!
  • They store a lot of information…have to remember where the best watering holes are as they travel long distances.
  • They also remember friends who got separated, lost loved ones, and enemies. Scientists say that an elephant never forgets!


  • Their sounds are very low frequencies with pitches below the range of what humans can hear.
  • These sounds can travel a long distance. (several km=a couple of miles)
  • It’s considered a private communication channel.
  • When they do make sounds that humans can hear.
  • Those rumblings sound like thunder.

Life span:

African: 60-70 years

Asian: 48 years


22 months (24 months in a year) versus a human=9 months


Conservation: The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya, Africa is a place where orphaned elephants can go to be rehabilitated and eventually be released back into the wild.

Adopt an elephant—follow their journey with monthly newsletters. My adopted elephant is a 5 year old male.

Ways to get involved/support these causes:

Locally, visit a local zoo and see if the elephants are not in chains and are treated well. Make a plea for them to be moved to a sanctuary such as The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.

Don’t support circuses that use wildlife as entertainment.

Never ride an elephant.


Now it’s time to read BECAUSE OF KHALID, a middle grade novel about an American boy who moves to the Serengeti National Park and befriends a Maasai warrior. When an elephant near the property is killed for its ivory tusks, Chris is drawn into a battle to save the place he now calls home.