African elephants are simply some of the most incredible animals on the planet. Large, intelligent, and utterly fascinating on so many levels, they are surely something to see roaming free in the wild. Even though African elephant habitat loss and illegal poaching have caused a decline in numbers, there are still thousands of these creatures spread out over much of the southern portion of the continent. There is no other earthly land animal that is larger than the African elephant, and they are known also as having larger ears than their Asian counterparts. Male African elephants can stand 12 feet tall at their shoulders, which is two feet taller than a regulation basketball hoop! Weighing up to 12,000 lbs., they are certainly to be respected when agitated. The female African elephants can stand 10 feet tall and weigh up to 11,000 lbs., which is surely nothing to sneeze at either.
There are two species of African elephants, one being the African Bush Elephant, the other being the African Forest Elephant. The African Forest Elephant is smaller in size, and among other differences are rounder ears and straighter tusks. Both male and female African elephants have tusks, and besides using them to defend themselves, they also use them for digging up roots and stripping bark off of trees. The large ears aid in keeping the elephants cool, as they radiate heat and can be fanned at will. The African heat can be quite oppressive, however, so the elephants will often take to the water, collecting water in their trunks and spraying it over their bodies. It's common to follow a refreshing shower with a dust bath to further protect the skin. The trunk is so much more than a hose, however, and one of its prime uses is as a grabbing utensil. At the end of the African elephant's trunk are tiny, finger-like protrusions that serve as pincers of sorts for picking up smaller items. There are some 100,000 muscles in that trunk, so it is very powerful indeed, especially when you figure how much weight is behind it.
Sleeping is not something that African elephants do a lot of, instead they tend to roam almost constantly, of course taking a break from time to time. It takes a lot of food to maintain a body like that, and so the search for the next meal is a pretty big concern. Besides bark and roots, the diet of African elephants also favors grasses and fruits. Sounds like they are pretty healthy. The female elephants in Africa tend to live in herds, which are family units of sorts. Pregnant for some 22 months, mother elephants grow a very strong attachment to their offspring, sharing their herds with them. The males, however, tend to roam a bit more. As impressive as it is to see a giant male elephant when enjoying an elephant safari in Africa, it's just as impressive to see a mother and her small baby, if you want to call a baby African elephant small. After all, they weigh some 200 lbs. at birth!
When you venture into an African elephant habitat, you
are often just as likely entering the habitat of buffalo,
lions, leopards, and rhinos,
which are the other members of the "Big Five",
so you will certainly see scores of interesting creatures.
As evidenced by the name, the African Forest elephant
will most easily be found in a forest, while the bush
elephants are happier out in the open. This might account
for their difference in size. The larger bush elephants
have less to restrict their movement, thus can afford
to be bigger. You can walk with elephants on an elephant
safari, and some safari companies have a few resident
elephants that let you ride on their backs. This is truly
an amazing world we live in, and when you head to African
countries where elephants are found, such as Kenya, South
Africa, and Botswana, you can't help but marvel
at the beauty of it all.