African Elephant

ZOO LOCATION: Encounter Africa

Lifespan: Up to 50 years

Wild Diet: Elephants are primary consumers (herbivores), mainly browsers.

Zoo Diet: Grass and oat hay, hay cubes, natural tree browse, produce salt and mineral supplements.

Predators: Leopards occasionally attack young; poaching for the ivory trade

SSP: yes

IUCN Status: Vulnerable

Habitat/Range: Open and forested areas of Africa including dense tropical forests, bush and marginal plains.

Characteristics: Elephant are the largest land mammals: males average 11 ft. tall and weigh 6 tons or more; females are generally smaller. They are tall, strong animals with large heads and large fan-shaped ears. They have long trunks formed from the nose and upper lip. Trunks are long, tubular, muscular, flexible and sensitive. Ivory tusks are elongated and specialized teeth, present in both males and females. Tusks are used to dig for food, water and as weapons. They have thick necks; course, straight, columnar legs; short, broad, pad-like feet and a tufted tail. Their skin is thick and almost hairless. African elephant trunks have two finger-like projections at the tip; trunks facilitate elephants' keen sense of smell, helping them locate food, water and enemies. Trunks are also used to examine objects and for giving themselves dust- or water-baths.

Behavior: Elephants live in groups called herds, sometimes as large as 20-30 individuals. They have no true home, but wander to find sufficient food. They eat and move about during the early morning and late afternoon, sleeping in the hot midday and from late evening to dawn. In general, elephants have poor vision but keen senses of hearing and smell. Groups display a wide complex of social rules and often show extraordinary discipline and recognizable customs. Defense is in the form of protective herding. There is a matriarch for each herd. She keeps the social structure in place and is the aggressor towards predators and intruders to the herd.

Reproduction: After a gestation period of 18-22 months, a single calf is born (very rarely two), weighing about 260 lbs. and standing nearly 3 ft. tall. A newborn nurses 2 1/2 gallons of milk a day and may nurse until they are 5 or 6 years old when the tusks become troublesome to the mother. They double their weight and height in the first 5 years; by age 30 they are fully grown and have a potential lifespan of 60 years. There is no definite breeding season.

Conservation: There has been considerable research on wild African elephant populations. The numbers are difficult to compile based on their movement, distribution and density. Historical numbers vary greatly across the continent, making it hard to determine changes in populations over time.

The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources), is having trouble determining trends in elephant populations reached a compromise approximation based on the regulations and listed African elephants and 'Near Threatened' in 2008. The decision was based on an inferred decline of 25% between 1979 and 2007, which falls short of the 30% decline required for a Vulnerable listing. This is a down listing from 'Vulnerable' in the 2004 IUCN Red List. The change largely reflects population increases in major populations in southern and eastern Africa. These increases are large enough to outweigh any decreases taking place elsewhere. The African Elephant Specialist Group will do a full assessment in the future to get better insight into African elephant populations.

A variety of pressures continue to challenge the survival of wild African elephants. All populations are facing issues with habitat loss and poaching for the ivory trade. In areas where populations are higher, elephants and humans often come into conflict with each other. To ensure the future of wild African elephants, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo supports the International Elephant Foundation. This dedicated group educates and assists communities impacted by wild elephants, funds anti-poaching efforts and provides equipment for field biologists. You can learn more about what you can do help elephants by visiting the International Elephant Foundation website Or learn more about poaching and the bushmeat crisis at