by Wildlife South Africa


Latin Name: Loxodonta africana

Afrikaans: Olifant


Some National Parks especially the Kruger National Park (with the largest concentration of Elephants in South Africa) and Addo Elephant National Park. Also occur in some private game reserves.


Elephants are very adaptable and occur from deserts to mountainous areas. However they prefer woodlands and savannah shrub-land, bush thickets, which are mostly areas with enough food (grass and leafy material) as well as enough fresh water.


Breeding herds up to 50 or more. When herds congregate a few hundred can gather with a matriarchs (adult cows) as leaders. Adult bulls are solitary, or gather in Bachelor herds, but they join breeding herds when cows are in oestrus. Elephants feed in large areas and congregate at water. When drinking at dams, pools or rivers, they are not fond of other animals close to them and will often chase them away, in some cases killing them. Despite their size, they are very fast and can move very softly. Elephants are of the most “intelligent” animals on earth.

Difference between bull and cow

Besides the obvious differences, bulls are larger and have a more rounded head and are larger, with far bigger tusks. The head of the female is angular.

Mass and height

Bulls 4800 kilograms to more than 6000 kilograms

Cows 3800 kilograms to 5000 kilograms

At shoulder height adult bulls are 3 to 4 meters tall while cows are less than 3 meters.


African elephants in the wild can live up to between 55 and 65 years (at most). An elephant’s lifespan depends on the availability of teeth. They have 6 sets of 4 molars each in the back of their jaws. Each set moves forward - new teeth replacing old. Only one set (4 teeth) is in use at any time. At approximately 47 years of age, the sixth set moves forward, lasting about 13 years. Thereafter they are unable to feed effectively and die.

Breeding / Gestation

Usually only one calf is born after a gestation period of about 22 months – Cows calf throughout the year.


Grass, reeds, tree bark, shoots, leaves, tree branches, wild fruit, and roots. Elephants need enough clean sweet water on a regular basis. The adult African Elephant drinks about 160 litres of water per day and eats on average about 180 kilograms of fresh vegetation (leaves, fruit, bark, roots, reeds and grass) daily. Elephants digest only 40% of the food they eat. An adult bull can produce more than a hundred kilograms of dung every 24 hours.

Day or night living

They are nocturnal and diurnal


Humans, Lion, Nile Crocodile (only young Elephants).

Interesting facts

The Elephant is one of the so called Big 5 animals, an old hunters term given to the 5 most dangerous animals to hunt in Africa.

Elephants spend up to 18 hours a day feeding and adult bulls can consume more than 250 kg of vegetation per 24-hour period and need about 160 liters of water. Despite their size, they are deceptively fast. When angered they can charge at a speed of more than 45 km per hour over a short distance. They are good swimmers.

References & Sources:

The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion,

Revised by D Skinner & Christian T Chimumba

Cambridge University Press 2005


Field Guide to Mammals of Southern Africa

Chris & Tilde Stuart

Struik Publishers

Third edition 2003


The Mammal Guide of Southern Africa

Burger Cillié

Briza Publications



Maberly's Mammals of Southern Africa - A popular Field Guide

A revision by Richard Goss of Charles Astley Maberly's - The Game Animals of Southern Africa

Delta Books (Pty) Ltd




Johan van der Walt