Today, the African elephant is the largest mammal in the world that lives on land, and the second largest among all animals that exist on earth. The championship is given to the blue whale. On the territory of the African continent, the elephant is the only representative of the proboscis family.
Amazing strength, power and behavior have always aroused special interest, delight and admiration among people. Looking at an elephant, one gets the impression that he is overweight, clumsy, and sometimes even lazy. However, this is not at all the case. Despite their size, elephants can be very agile, fast and agile.
Species origin and description
The African elephant belongs to the chordate mammals. It is a representative of the proboscis order and the elephant family, a genus of African elephants. African elephants, in turn, are divided into two subspecies: forest and savannah. As a result of numerous examinations, the estimated age of the existence of a mammal on earth has been established. It is almost five million years old. Zoologists say that the ancient ancestors of the African elephant led a predominantly aquatic lifestyle. Aquatic vegetation served as the main source of food.
Meriterium is named as the ancestor of the African elephant. Presumably it existed on earth more than 55 million years ago. His remains were found in what is now Egypt. It was small in size. Corresponded to the size of the body of a modern wild boar. Meriterium had short but well-developed jaws and a small trunk. The trunk was formed as a result of the fusion of the nose and upper lip in order to easily move in the water. Outwardly, he looked like a small hippopotamus. Meriterium gave rise to a new genus – paleomastodon.
Video: African elephant
His time fell on the Upper Eocene. This is evidenced by archaeological finds on the territory of modern Egypt. Its dimensions were much larger than the dimensions of the body of meriterium, and the trunk is much longer. The paleomastodon became the ancestor of the mastodon, which in turn became the mammoth. The last mammoths that existed on earth were on Wrangel Island and were exterminated about 3.5 thousand years ago.
Zoologists say that about 160 proboscis species have died out on earth. Among these species there were animals of incredible size. The mass of some representatives of certain species exceeded 20 tons. Today, elephants are considered quite rare animals. There are only two species left on earth: African and Indian.
Appearance and features
The African elephant is really huge. It is much larger than the Indian elephant. In height, the animal reaches 4-5 meters, and its weight is about 6-7 tons. They have pronounced sexual dimorphism. Female individuals are significantly inferior in size and body weight. The largest representative of this species of elephants reached a height of about 7 meters, and its weight was 12 tons.
African giants have very long, huge ears. Their size is about one and a half to two times the size of the ears of an Indian elephant. Elephants tend to escape from overheating by flapping their huge ears. Their length can reach two meters. In this way, they lower their body temperature.
Animals of huge size have a massive, large body and a very small tail a little over a meter long. Animals have a large massive head and a short neck. Elephants have powerful thick limbs. They have a feature of the structure of the soles, thanks to which they easily move both on sand and on flat terrain. The foot area when walking can increase and decrease. The forelimbs have four fingers, the hind limbs have three.
Among African elephants, just like among people, there are left-handers and right-handers. This is determined depending on which tusk the elephant uses more often. The skin of the animal has a dark gray color and is covered with a sparse hairline. She is wrinkled and rough. However, the skin is very sensitive to external factors. They are very vulnerable to the direct rays of the scorching sun. To protect themselves from the sun, elephants hide their cubs in the shade of their bodies, and adults sprinkle themselves with sand or mud.
With age, the hairline on the surface of the skin is wiped off. In old elephants, hair on the skin is completely absent, with the exception of a tassel on the tail. The length of the trunk reaches two meters, and the weight is 130-140 kilograms. It performs many functions. With its help, elephants can pluck grass, grab various objects, pour water on themselves, and even breathe through their trunk.
With the help of a trunk, an elephant is able to lift weights up to 260 kilograms. Elephants have powerful, heavy tusks. Their weight reaches 60-65 kilograms, and the length is 2-2.5 meters. They constantly increase with age. This species of elephant has tusks for both females and males.
Where does the African elephant live?
Previously, African elephant populations were much more numerous. Accordingly, their habitat was much larger and wider. With an increase in the number of poachers, as well as the development of new lands by humans and the destruction of their natural habitat, their range has significantly decreased. Today, the vast majority of African elephants live in national parks and reserves.
Geographical regions of the location of African elephants:
As a habitat, African elephants choose the territory of forests, forest-steppes, the foot of mountains, swampy rivers, and savannahs. For elephants, it is necessary that in their habitat there is a reservoir, a plot with a forest as a shelter from the scorching African sun. The main habitat of the African elephant is the territory south of the Sahara desert.
Previously, representatives of the proboscis family lived on a vast territory of 30 million square kilometers. To date, it has decreased to 5.5 million square meters. It is unusual for African elephants to live in one territory all their lives. They can migrate long distances in search of food or to escape intense heat.
What does an African elephant eat?
African elephants are considered herbivores. In their diet, only food of plant origin. One adult eats about two — three tons of food. In this regard, most of the day elephants eat food. This took about 15-18 hours. Males require more food than females. Elephants spend a few more hours a day looking for suitable vegetation. There is an opinion that African elephants are madly in love with peanuts. In captivity, they are very willing to use it. However, under natural conditions, they do not show interest in it, and do not specifically look for it.
The basis of the diet of the African elephant is young shoots and lush green vegetation, roots, branches of shrubs and other types of vegetation. In the wet season, animals feed on juicy green varieties of plants. It can be papyrus, cattail. Elderly individuals feed mainly on marsh plant species. This is due to the fact that with age, the teeth lose their sharpness and the animals are no longer able to eat solid, rough food.
Fruits are considered a special delicacy, they are consumed in large quantities by forest elephants. In search of food, they can enter the territory of agricultural land and destroy the fruits of fruit trees. Due to their huge size and the need for a large amount of food, they cause serious damage to agricultural land.
Elephants begin to eat plant foods when they reach the age of two. After three years, they completely switch to an adult diet. African elephants also require salt, which they obtain by licking slimes and digging them into the ground. Elephants need a very large amount of liquid. On average, one adult consumes 190-280 liters of water per day. During the drought period, elephants dig huge holes near riverbeds, in which water accumulates. In search of food, elephants migrate over great distances.
Character and lifestyle features
Elephants are herd animals. They live in groups of 15-20 adults. In former times, when animals were not threatened with extinction, the size of the group could reach hundreds of individuals. When migrating, small groups gather into larger herds.
The head of the herd is always the female. For superiority and leadership, females often fight with each other when large groups break into smaller ones. After death, the eldest female takes the place of the main female.
In the family, the orders of the oldest female are always clearly executed. As part of the group, along with the main female, young sexually mature females, as well as immature individuals of either sex, live. Upon reaching 10-11 years, males are expelled from the herd. At first, they tend to follow the family. Then they completely separate and lead an isolated lifestyle, or form male groups.
The group always has a very warm, friendly atmosphere. Elephants are very friendly with each other, show great patience towards the little elephants. They are characterized by mutual assistance and assistance. They always support the weakened and sick members of the family, standing on both sides so that the animal does not fall. An amazing fact, but elephants tend to experience certain emotions. They can be sad, upset, bored.
Elephants have a very sensitive sense of smell and hearing, but poor eyesight. It is noteworthy that representatives of the proboscis family can “hear with their feet.” There are special supersensitive areas on the lower limbs that perform the function of capturing various vibrations, as well as the direction from which they come.
- Elephants are excellent swimmers and simply love water procedures and bathing.
- Animals tend to communicate with each other through the issuance of trumpet sounds.
Each herd occupies its own defined territory.
Elephants are recognized as animals that sleep the least. Such huge animals sleep no more than three hours a day. They sleep standing up, forming a circle. During sleep, the head is turned to the center of the circle.
Social Structure and Reproduction
Females and males reach sexual maturity at different ages. It depends on the conditions in which the animals live. Males can reach sexual maturity at the age of 14-16 years, females a little earlier. Often, in the struggle for the right to enter into marriage, males fight, they can cause serious injuries to each other. Elephants tend to look after each other very beautifully. The elephant and the female elephant, having formed a pair, move away together away from the herd. They tend to hug each other with their trunks, expressing their sympathy and tenderness.
There is no mating season for animals. They can breed at any time of the year. During the period of marriage, they can show aggression due to high testosterone levels. Pregnancy lasts 22 months. During pregnancy, other female elephants of the herd protect and help the expectant mother. Subsequently, they will take on some of the care of the baby elephant.
When the birth is approaching, the elephant leaves the herd and retires to a secluded, quiet place. She is accompanied by another elephant, who are called “midwives”. An elephant gives birth to no more than one cub. The mass of the newborn is about a centner, the height is about one meter. Babies have no tusks and a very small trunk. After 20-25 minutes, the cub gets to its feet.
Baby elephants stay with their mother for the first 4-5 years of life. Mother's milk, as the main source of nutrition, is used during the first two years.
Subsequently, babies begin to eat plant foods. Each female elephant produces offspring once every 3-9 years. The ability to bear children remains until the age of 55-60. The average life expectancy of African elephants in natural conditions is 65-80 years.
Natural enemies of African elephants
When living in natural conditions, elephants have practically no enemies among the representatives of the animal world. Strength, power, as well as huge size do not leave the possibility even for strong and fast predators to hunt it. Only weakened individuals or small elephants can become the prey of predatory animals. Such individuals can become prey for cheetahs, lions, leopards.
To date, the only and very dangerous enemy is man. Elephants have always attracted poachers who have killed them for their tusks. Elephant tusks are of particular value. They were highly valued at all times. Valuable souvenirs, jewelry, decorative elements, etc. are made from them.
A significant reduction in the habitat is associated with the development of more and more new territories. Africa's population is constantly growing. With its growth, more and more land is required for housing and agriculture. In this regard, the territory of their natural habitat is being destroyed and is rapidly declining.
Population and species status
At the moment, African elephants are not threatened with complete extinction, but they are considered a rare, endangered animal species. Mass extermination of animals by poachers was noted in the middle of the 19th and early 20th centuries. During this period, poachers supposedly destroyed one hundred thousand elephants. Elephant tusks were of particular value.
Piano keys made of ivory were especially valued. In addition, a huge amount of meat allowed a large number of people to eat for a long time. Elephant meat was mostly cured. Hair and tail tassels were used to make jewelry and household items. The limbs served as the basis for making a stool.
African elephants are on the verge of extinction. In this regard, the animals were listed in the International Red Book. They were given the status of “endangered species”. In 1988, the hunting of African elephants was strictly prohibited.
Violation of this law was a criminal offense. People actively began to take measures to preserve populations, as well as to increase them. Reserves, national parks began to be created, on the territory of which elephants were carefully guarded. They created favorable conditions for breeding in captivity.
In 2004, in the International Red Book, the African elephant managed to change the status from “endangered species” to “vulnerable species”. Today, people from all over the world come to African national parks to see these amazing, huge animals. Ecotourism involving elephants is widespread to attract a large number of visitors and tourists.
African Elephant Conservation
In order to preserve African elephants as a species, hunting for animals is officially prohibited at the legislative level. Poaching and breaking the law is a criminal offence. Reserves and national parks have been created on the territory of the African continent, which have all the conditions for the reproduction and comfortable existence of representatives of the proboscis family.
Zoologists say that it takes almost three decades to restore a herd of 15-20 individuals. In 1980, the number of animals was 1.5 million. After they began to be actively exterminated by poachers, their number dropped sharply. In 2014, their number did not exceed 350 thousand.
In order to preserve animals, they were listed in the international Red Book. In addition, the Chinese authorities decided to abandon the production of souvenirs and figurines, and other products from different parts of the animal's body. In the United States, more than 15 regions have refused to trade in goods made of ivory.
The African elephant is an animal that boggles the imagination with its size and at the same time calmness and friendliness. To date, this animal is not threatened with complete extinction, but in natural conditions they can now be found extremely rarely.