African Elephant

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African elephants live in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, although their range is now broken into patches. Small numbers of forest elephants live in dense equatorial forests of Central Africa from Zaire west to Mauritania, while savanna elephants are far more widespread in drier woodlands and savannas. Savanna elephants are now most common in Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and South Africa. The suspected third species lives in both savanna and forest in west Africa.

Can occupy a variety of habitats: deserts, forests, savannas (open grasslands), river valleys and marshes.

Distinguishing Characteristics
General: African elephants are the heaviest land animal, and the second tallest in the animal kingdom. The tallest being the giraffe.

Size: avg. 9988 lbs (7920 to 13200 lbs ;)
(3600 to 6000 kg; avg. 4540 kg)

Males: can grow to a maximum of 13 ft (4-4.5 m)
Females: 9 ft (approx. 2.5-3 m)

Trunk: They have a unique nose that is long and boneless- extending from the upper lip. The trunk usually measures about five feet long (about 150 cm) and weighs around 300 pounds (about 135 kg).

The two finger-like projections on the tip are so dexterous they can pick a blade of grass. The trunk itself is so strong it is capable of lifting 600 pounds (250- 275 kg).

Dietary Classification
Diet in the Zoo: At the zoo, elephants eat mostly hay. The best hay for elephants is high in fiber and fairly low in protein. Elephants are picky eaters and will refuse hay that is not palatable to them. They also get a small supplement (grain in block form) formulated specifically for elephants and a small amount of apples, carrots, cabbage, bananas and sweet potatoes. This basic diet is supplemented with as much fresh browse as possible. It is their favorite and provides good roughage, allows for the expression of natural behaviors, helps with natural tooth wear and provides enrichment. Their favorites are hackberry, sweetgum, maple trees and bamboo.

Diet in the Wild: Elephants eat a great variety of vegetation like leaves, roots, bark, grasses and fruit. Each day they can consume anywhere from 220 to 660 pounds (100 to 300 kg) of food, and drink up to 50 gallons (190 L) of water.

Life Span
Life expectancy at birth is 33 years for females and 25 for males. Maximum lifespan can reach 65 years for females and 60 years for males.

African elephants society is based on a social matriarchal community. The matriarch is the oldest female who leads a clan of 9 to 11 elephants. Only closely related females and their offspring are part of this herd because males wander alone once they reach maturity.
The herd's well being depends on the guidance of the matriarch. She determines when they eat, rest, bathe or drink. As the matriarch begins to be limited by advancing age, around 50-60 years old, the next oldest replaces her.

Females in the herd practice motherhood by being allomothers to the calves. While the adults are sleeping (standing or laying on their sides), these assistants must protect the babies and retrieve them if they stray too far.

Males, however, leave the herd at maturity and wander alone or in bachelor herds. Around 25 years old, they begin to compete for mates

Unique Behaviors:
* If they sense a predator nearby, the largest cows instinctively herd the calves into a bunch around the matriarch. Next, they form circles around the cluster which creates protective layers that are impossible for predators to penetrate.

Ecosystem Roles
Very few species can alter their own environment like elephants do.
They demolish bushes, pull up trees by their roots and pack down the soil which can lead to erosion. This destruction also turns wooded areas into grasslands that are needed by grazing animals.

Elephants create water holes by digging in dry riverbeds. They coat themselves with mud from the waters edge to protect from the sun and parasites, which creates a larger water hole.

They can make and enlarge caves by searching for salts to eat. These caves are used for shelter for many different species.

When elephants walk they stir up insects for birds to eat and easily disperse seeds which pass through their system undigested. The African Eggplant (Solanum aethiopicum) only grows after it has been through their system and fertilized by the elephant dung.

African elephants are listed as endangered on the World Conservation Union's Red List of Threatened Animals. The African Elephant Conservation Act of 1988 is in full effect today, which bans any trade in ivory. The species' status on the CITES appendix has moved to #1, from a monitored amount of trade to none. Past/Present/Future: African elephants once lived throughout Africa; they now inhabit no more than one-third of the continent and are gone from the Sahara. Over the past 150 years, ivory hunters have ruthlessly hunted them for their tusks. Between 1979 and 1989, Africa's elephant population plummeted from 1,300,000 animals to 750,000, due mostly to ivory hunting. Since the 1980s, an international ban on trade in ivory has helped many populations hold steady or rebound. However, African elephants have lost much of their habitat to ranches, farms, and desertification. The forest elephant, always far less common than the savanna subspecies, is under threat from logging and market hunting for its meat. African elephants are now found mostly in reserves. In some parks, confined elephant populations have major impacts on habitat, changing open forests into grasslands. 2002 statistics list total population around 400,000.