African Elephant

African Elephant

Scientific name: Loxodonta africana

Swahili name: Ndovu/Tembo


Description and Natural History:
a) Physical Description
The African elephant is the largest land animal on the earth. Males and females are sexually dimorphic (a difference in size or physical characteristics between males and females) with males measuring about 3 meters (9.8 feet) at the shoulder, and weighing 5,000 - 6,000 kg (11,000 - 13,200 pounds). Females measure about 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) at the shoulder and weigh 3,000 - 3,500 kilograms (6,600 - 7,700 pounds).

Their thick gray or brownish-gray skin is scattered with bristles and sensory hairs. To protect the sensitive skin from sunburn and insect bites, elephants roll in dust and mud, or throw it on themselves with their trunks. The African elephant is larger than the Asian elephant and has larger, fan-like ears up to 1.5 meters (4.9 feet). African elephants also have a concave curvature along their backs, and both males and females grow tusks (elongated second upper incisors). Tusks grow throughout the lifetime of the animal and therefore are largest in old animals. Elephants use their tusks for food gathering and carrying, and as weapons.

b) Natural History
Historically; African elephants inhabited areas south of the Sahara, although they are now restricted to forest, bush and savanna in parks and preserves due to human encroachment and agricultural expansion. They live in complex migratory matriarchal herds of eight or ten to 15 related animals led by one dominant female (cow).

c) Social organization

Elephants are matriarchal with oldest female controlling group. Cows and female calves spend their entire lives together, whereas males leave the herd at puberty (12 - 14 years). Kin or bond groups are herds of related families that remain fairly close to one another and may come together to form clans of 200 or more animals for short periods.

Males (bulls) live alone or in small bachelor herds. Like the female herds, male dominance structure may also be complex. .

d) Population Status
The African elephant is listed as Endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) and by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). It is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora except for populations in those countries (Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia) which were reclassified to Appendix II.


Many countries set up programmes to safeguard their population. In Kenya, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Elephant Programme falls under KWS Research and Planning Department and is responsible for coordinating management, research and monitoring elephants throughout the country. This include coordinating and participating in all national elephant issues, community outreach, ensuring elephant security, problem animal control and reducing conflict with people. Given the broad range of elephant related activities, the Elephant Programme works closely with members of other KWS Departments, NGOs, local people and other stakeholders.


The objective of the Programme during its initiation in 1989 was to protect the elephants from the danger of extinction that was posed by the poachers. The country's elephant population was 170,000 at independence in 1963, by 1989 when the Programme was established the population had reduced to a mere 16,000. In May 1989, Kenya along with other nations, proposed the listing of the African elephant on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). In October of the same year, the Parties to the CITES voted to uplist the African elephant to Appendix I, thus banning the international trade in ivory and other elephant products. With these changes, the conditions for Kenya's elephants improved dramatically with the population rising to some 26,000 elephants by 1996. However, the June 1997 decision by the COP 10 to CITES to downlist elephants to appendix 2 in some Southern African countries to allow limited trade in ivory have stimulated poaching in Kenya's elephant ranges. Kenya's outcry is to totally stop the bloody elephant trade to help save this charismatic species!!!

e) Threats to the Species
African elephants are threatened by poaching and habitat loss. Tusks have been used in jewelry, piano keys, hanko (the personalized signature seals required on official documents in Japan) and other items. Their hides and other parts are a minor component of trade; their meat is used by local people, and they are highly prized among big game hunters.

The International Ivory Trade
Kenya with 26 other African range states have formed a coalition known as Africa Elephant Coalition with the aim to lobby other states  to support the international ban on commercial trade in ivory and to ensure that the African elephant remains on Appendix I at the next meeting of the parties to CITES. Southern Africa Countries namely South Africa, Botwasana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and Tanzania from Eastern Africa however allows game hunting and limited trade in ivory which experts argue is responsible for poaching in other African countries like Kenya.

Fotogaléria: African Elephant