"There is mystery behind that masked gray visage, an ancient life force, delicate and mighty, awesome and enchanted, commanding the silence ordinarily reserved for mountain peaks, great fires, and the sea." —Peter Matthiessen

Either of two species: Elephas maximus, the Indian elephant, and Loxodonta africana, the African elephant (family Elephantidae, order Proboscidea). The African elephant is the largest living land animal (weight 7,500 kg, height 3-4 m). The Indian elephant is smaller (weight 5,500 kg, height 3 m); even its ears are considerably smaller than those of the African elephant. The molar teeth of elephants do not erupt all at once; rather, a new one grows forward as the existing tooth wears down. The sixth and final pair of molars is worn down at about 60 years (L. africana), so few elephants live beyond this age. Both species have two upper incisors that grow into tusks, but these are usually absent in the female Indian elephant. The nostrils are located at the end of the dexterous muscular trunk, which is used for breathing, eating, and drinking. Elephants drink by sucking water up into the trunk and then squirting it into the mouth. They eat by detaching grasses, leaves, and fruit with the tip of the trunk and using it to place this vegetation in the mouth. By means of a small, fingerlike projection on the tip of the trunk-African elephants have two of these extremities and Indian elephants have one-they are able to pick up small objects.

E. maximus is native to the Indian subcontinent and southeastern Asia; L. africana is found in sub-Saharan Africa. Both species live in habitats ranging from thick jungle to savanna. They live in small family groups led by old females (cows); where food is plentiful the groups join in larger herds. Most males (bulls) live in bachelor herds apart from the cows. Elephants migrate seasonally, according to the availability of food and water. They spend many hours eating and may consume more than 225 kg (500 pounds) of grasses and other vegetation in a day. Gestation averages 22 months. Mature male elephants annually enter a condition known as musth, which is marked by secretions from the musth glands behind the eye, an increase in aggression, and association with females that usually leads to mating. Elephants are in great danger from habitat destruction and human exploitation. The Indian elephant is considered an endangered species, and the African elephant is classified as threatened.

Wild Elephants at Corbett National Park, India (20) / Periyar Wildlife Reserve, Kerela, India (1)

Periyar wildlife reserve, Kerela, India

Domesticated Elephants, India

Temple elephant, Vijayanagar, Karnataka Corbett National Park

Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania

Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania

Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda


Designed in collaboration with Vitalect, Inc.