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African Elephant

(Elephantidae Loxodonta africana)

Elephants are the largest, most powerful terrestrial mammal in the world. African elephants were added to the endangered species list in 1988. The main reason for this status was that increasing ivory prices caused a tremendous increase in poaching during the 1970s. In 1989, hunting of the African elephant and ivory trading were forbidden, after the elephant population fell from several million at the beginning of the 20th century to fewer than 700,000. Some of the African elephant populations were also further threatened by the expansion of human populations into their historical territories. Scientists then estimated that, if no protective measures were taken, the wild elephant would be extinct by 1995. The protection that the elephant now receives has been partially successful, but despite increasingly severe penalties imposed by governments against illegal hunting, poaching is still common.

With human populations moving more into the elephant territories, human-elephant conflict can occur when the elephants venture into farm land. African elephants can eat nearly 500 pounds of hay and other plant material in a day. One of the reasons they need to eat so much is because they have an inefficient digestive system. They can only digest about 40 percent of plant matter they eat per day and only have four large grinding teeth. African elephants eat leaves, grass, tree bark, roots, other plant material, and drink lots of water. Actually they can drink about 190 liters of water per day. To get this water an animal will suck it up into his trunk and then spray it into his mouth. An elephant trunk is not only useful for drinking but is very strong, containing 40,000 muscles.

African elephants can make many sounds with their trunks:
  • Trumpet - through the trunk
  • Roar - open mouth
  • Rumble - a low sound possibly from the throat
  • Chirp - tongue sucking noise
  • Raspberry - noise from the tongue or tip of the trunk
  • Whistle
African elephants like to wallow in streams and pools and toss dirt or mud on their backs. They play in the mud as one way of cooling off. When the mud dries on the elephant's skin it protects the skin from the sun. Elephants also use their ears to regulate body temperature. Elephant ears are full of blood vessels and flap to cool the blood and maintain body temperature. They also flap their ears for better blood circulation. Also during the hottest part of the day they will take naps either standing up or laying down.

African elephants have much larger ears than Asian elephants and can weigh up 6 tons. The African elephants also have rougher skin. Their skin is more than 1 1/2 inches thick. Elephants belong to the group of mammals called pachyderms. ("Pachy" meaning thick and "derm" meaning skin). When an elephant is born, it will weigh 198-265 pounds and can stand after 30 minutes a male adult is quite a bit bigger than a female. Their head, body, and trunk can be 19-24 ft. tall and they are 10-13ft. up to their shoulder.

Knoxville Zoo is home to three elephants - Tonka, Jana and Edie.

To learn more about Tonka, please click here.

Tonka, Jana and Edie would like you to visit them at Stokely African Elephant Preserve, made possible by a generous gift from William B. Stokely Jr. Foundation. Stokely African Elephant Preserve is part of Grasslands Africa! exhibit. Grasslands Africa! was made possible by a generous donation from Scott Niswonger.
Order: Proboscidea
Gestation: 22 months
Range: Africa