The African Elephant, Loxodonta africana.
The African elephant is a bit larger than its Asian cousin and much much larger than any other land animal alive today. One of the Big Five it can be up to four metres tall and weigh up to ten tonnes but a more normal size is a still impressive three metres at the shoulder and six tonnes for a male. Females are generally a little smaller. In comparison hippos are about 1.5 m and 2.5 tonnes. The African elephant is comfortably the largest land animal in the world.
Elephants have a rigid societal structure organised around a matriarch and the family group is mostly female. Males tend to live more solitary lives and only join the females for mating. The family is led by a female and normally consists of her breeding daughters and grand-daughters and non-breeding descendants both male and female.
The elephant is one of the few creatures to really destroy the land as much as humans do. Because of this they need a vast range. When you need up to 150 kg of food every day you can very quickly eat an area clean. To eat this amount elephants spend the vast majority of the day eating. They eat anything vegetarian. Even underground food like roots and tubers are on the menu as they can be dug up with their tusks. Trees are ripped apart to get at the goodness beneath the bark and branches are ripped off to bring fruits down to a more manageable level.
In certain areas such as Botswana protection of elephants has been so good that the population is getting out of control. The reason for this is that elephants don’t forget. One always responds to that with ‘what have elephants got to remember?’ but the truth is that they do remember the dangers that were in Angola during the civil war there. However in recent years elephants have been returning to old migration routes spreading out once more.
While the 100,000 elephants in Botswana is a success story they aren’t so lucky elsewhere. Hunting for bushmeat and more imporantly ivory has caused a reduction by half in their numbers across Africa in the last 30 to 40 years. Kenya and Tanzania especially have lost large numbers.
However there is still plenty of opportunity to see the giant of Africa in the wild. Chobe National Park in Botswana is known for its elephants and Amboselli in Kenya is also relatively full of them. Most Wildlife reserves across the continent still have elephants so you will most likely see them while on safari no matter where you go.