Unmistakable, the elephant is one of the signature animals of Africa, and considered one of the most intelligent animals on earth.

Distribution Once widespread across Africa the elephant’s home range (territory) has dwindled due to human population growth and poaching. The material value of ivory has ensured that the elephant has been severely hunted.

Social structure Elephant social structures can be divided into breeding herds and bachelor herds. Breeding herds are led by a matriarch and are made up of females, calves and sexually immature males.[/p]When a male reaches sexual maturity the matriarch will chase him from the herd and he will either lead a solitary life or join a bachelor herd made up of young and old individuals. Males are seen in the breeding herd when there is a female on heat or when paths cross (at waterholes for example).

Range differentiation There is much differentiation in size and habits of elephants across Africa. In the southern parts of Africa, such as Addo Elephant Park, elephants’ tusks are much smaller than further north. This is due to the lack of calcium in the food source. It was thought that the colour of elephants varied from area to area but their colour is in fact merely governed by an area’s soil type.

Habitat Elephants utilize a wide range of habitats from deserts to forest and coastal woodland where water is available.

Feeding Elephants feed on a wide variety of the roots, leaves, fruits and flowers of plants. The consistency of their diet will depend on area and season. In some areas elephants are predominantly grazers and in other areas they are predominantly browsers.[/p] [p]In Namibia’s Etosha National Park I have observed elephants eating the dried nests of the white-browed sparrow weaver. An adult elephant can eat up to three hundred kilograms of vegetation a day and drink up to two hundred litres of water.

Breeding Females on heat can mate with up to six males during one cycle. The male’s penis is long and curved to allow it to reach and penetrate the female genitalia when he is standing on his hind legs. An adult male’s penis has been weighed at fifty-five kilograms. The Gestation period for elephants is twenty-two months.