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African Elephant
African Elephant

African elephant

Order- Proboscidea, Family Elephantidae- Loxodont, africana
Elephant are mixed feeders and prefer to graze when good grass is available. Bulls need about 170kg of food a day and only digest about 40% of this. Elephant drink daily where possible but can go several days without water. Bulls will drink approximately 160liters of water per day. Most drinking takes place in the afternoon but particularly in areas where breeding herds are nervous, much of the drinking takes place at night.
Due to the large amount of food required, elephant will feed for up to 18 hours a day and therefore have to be active both at night and during the day.
Elephant are seldom attacked but may be preyed upon by lion. This is usually the case with young orphans that are lost from the herd but in the case of the Savuti pride in the 90’s and early 2000’s there were documented cases of fully grown cows and sub-adult bulls being killed.
When elephant become alert to the presence of a threat, they stop and listen and may raise the trunk to test the wind. They may “mock-feed”* while trying to identify the disturbance. Warning signals include facing a threat with the ears held forward to increase the silhouette, shaking the head with a loud flap of the ears against the side of the body and trumpeting. When an elephant attacks it runs at the threat. If the head is held high, the ears are out and the animal is trumpeting there is a reasonable chance that it will not follow through with the charge. This is known as a mock-charge but it is important to note that the elephant can change its mind in a split second and what begins as a mock-charge can become a serious charge with no warning. A serious charge is usually head down, ears back and minimum noise and maximum speed.
When an elephant is being submissive it keeps its head down and will not face the other elephant head on.  Only if the more dominant bull approaches will he face the dominant bull but will walk backward away from the dominant bull and if the threat continues, he may turn and run, often with the tail sideways.
When encountering elephant as a guide you should try by all means to avoid detection. If you have been detected by a bull elephant, if you cannot get to cover or safety, stand your ground. If the bull approaches hold your arms up and out to make your silhouette larger and take a step towards the elephant. Talk in a confident voice to your guests telling them not to run and to stand their ground. Breeding herds seldom come into camps and so you should not need to deal with this scenario. If you do encounter a breeding herd you can only analyse the situation as it unfolds and do your best to get to safety.
Elephant are home-range animals and have no territories. However in times of drought they may become dominant bulls become territorial with water-holes and prevent other elephant from drinking.
Mating may take place with males that are below 35 years of age in early and late oestrus  but in mid-oestrus (the time when they will conceive) the cows will only allow the older, more dominant males mate with them. Elephant are born after a gestation of 22 months and most are born in the rain season.  Calves under a year old are small enough to  pass under the belly of the female. They begin weaning at 2-3years. At between 12-15 years old they are half their adult size and by their early 20’s the cows are about 90% grown and bulls around 80% grown.
Females stay with the herd but young bulls leave the herd between 12-15 years of age and join other bulls to continue their learning, but now more specifically learning the skills of surviving as a bull elephant. They associate with suitable bulls until 20-25 before becoming totally independent.
As mature bulls elephant come into musth for the first time around 20-25 and up until 35 the musth is weak, short lived and unpredictable in its onset. Musth is a state of elevated testosterone that causes an increase in aggression and sexual desire within bull elephants. It is only during this time that bull elephants will actively seek out oestrus cows over a long range and compete to mate with these receptive females.  After 35 bulls will come into full-blown musth that will last several months and the bulls are large enough to seriously compete for mating rites.
Young cows will come into oestrus at between 12-15 years and this is dependent on environmental conditions. The breeding herds are made up of family units which consist of grand-mothers, their daughters and granddaughters. Many family units may join up to form herds of several hundred elephant but within the herd, the cows are always associated with their close relatives and the herd never breaks down smaller than the family units. Average lifespan in the wild is 50-60 years.
Elephant vocalisations are very complex and many of them are in infra-sound meaning sound below the hearing of humans. Of the audible vocalizations there are greeting and oestrus grumbles and trumpets of alarm, aggression and excitement.