|African bush elephant|
The African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana), also known as the African savanna elephant, is the largest living terrestrial animal with bulls reaching a shoulder height of up to 3.96 m (13.0 ft). Both sexes have tusks, which erupt when they are 1–3 years old and grow throughout life.
It is distributed across 37 African countries and inhabits forests, grasslands and woodlands, wetlands and agricultural land. It is a social mammal, traveling in herds composed of cows and their offspring. Adult bulls usually live alone or in small bachelor groups. It is a herbivore, feeding on grasses, creepers, herbs, leaves and bark.
The description of the species was published in 1797. Since 2004, it has been listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. It is threatened foremost by habitat destruction, and in parts of its range also by poaching for meat and ivory.
The African bush elephant is the largest and heaviest land animal on earth, being up to 3.96 m (13.0 ft) tall at the shoulder and 10.4 tonnes (22,930 lb) in weight (a male shot in 1974, near Mucusso, southern Angola). On average, males are 3.2 metres (10.5 ft) tall at the shoulder and 6 tonnes (13,230 lb) in weight, while females are much smaller at 2.6 metres (8.5 ft) tall at the shoulder and 3 tonnes (6,610 lb) in weight.
The most characteristic features of African elephants are their very large ears, which they use to radiate excess heat, and their trunk, a nose and an extension of the upper lip with two opposing extensions, or "fingers" at the end of it (in contrast to the Asian elephant, which only has one). The trunk is used for communication and handling objects and food.
African elephants also have bigger tusks, large modified incisors that grow throughout an elephant's life. They occur in both males and females and are used in fights and for marking, feeding, and digging.
Female African bush elephant skeleton on display at the Museum of Osteology, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Distribution and habitat
The African bush elephant occurs in Sub-Saharan Africa including Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia, and Angola. It moves between a variety of habitats, including subtropical and temperate forests, dry and seasonally flooded grasslands and woodlands, wetlands and agricultural land from sea level to mountain slopes. In Mali and Namibia, it also inhabits desert areas.
In Ethiopia, the African bush elephant has historically been recorded up to an altitude of 2,500 m (8,200 ft). By the late 1970s, the population had declined to a herd in the Dawa River valley and one close to the Kenyan border.
Over time, these molars are worn away, and new ones are grown to replace them as the elephant ages. Around the age of 15, the milk teeth are replaced by new ones that last until the age of 30, and then by another set which wear off past the age of 40, being replaced by the last set of teeth that last until about the age of 60–70. Not much later, the animal dies of starvation from not being able to feed correctly. Specimens over 80 years old are known in captivity.
This species typically ingests an average of 225 kilograms (500 lb) of vegetable matter daily, which is defecated without being fully digested. That, combined with the long distances it can cover daily in search of more food, contributes notably to the dispersion of many plant seeds that germinate in the middle of a nutrient-filled feces mound.
Elephants rip apart all kind of plants, and knock down trees with the tusks if they are not able to reach the tree leaves. per day.
Adult males usually live alone. Herds are made up of related females and their young, led by the eldest female, called the matriarch. Infrequently, an adult male goes with them, but those usually leave the herd when reaching adolescence to form bachelor herds with other elephants of the same age. Later, they lead a solitary life, approaching the female herds only during the mating season. Nevertheless, elephants do not get too far from their families and recognize them when re-encountered. Sometimes, several female herds can blend for a time, reaching even hundreds of individuals.
Mating happens when the female becomes receptive, an event that can occur anytime during the year. When she is ready, she starts emitting infra-sounds to attract the males, sometimes from kilometers away. The adult males start arriving at the herd during the following days and begin fighting, causing some injuries and even broken tusks. The female shows her acceptance of the victor by rubbing her body against his. They mate, and then both go their own way.
After 22 months of gestation (the longest among mammals), the female gives birth to a single 90-cm-high calf which weighs more than 100 kg. The baby feeds on the mother's milk until the age of five, but also eats solid food from as early as six months old. Just a few days after birth, the calf can follow the herd by foot.
The adult African bush elephant generally has no natural predators due to its great size, but the calves (especially the newborns) are vulnerable to lion and crocodile attacks, and (rarely) to leopard and hyena attacks.
Some prides of lions prey on both infants and juveniles, especially in the drought months. Lions in Chobe National Park in Botswana have been observed for some time taking both infants (23% of elephant kills) and juveniles. Predators, as well as drought, contribute significantly to infant mortality.
While the species is designated as vulnerable, conditions vary somewhat by region between East and Southern Africa. The populations in Southern Africa are thought to be increasing at 4% yearly, whilst other populations are decreasing
In 2006, an elephant slaughter was documented in southeastern Chad by aerial surveys. A series of poaching incidents, resulting in the killing of over 100 elephants, was carried out during the late spring and summer of 2006 in the vicinity of Zakouma National Park.
Human encroachment into or adjacent to natural areas where the African bush elephant occurs has led to recent research into methods of safely driving groups of elephants away from humans, including the discovery that playback of the recorded sounds of angry honey bees are remarkably effective at prompting elephants to flee an area.
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