The African Savanna Elephant

Did you know?

  • One of the most emotive of the megafauna and the largest living terrestrial animal, African savanna elephants inspire awe at their sheer size. The largest recorded individual reached a massive 4m at the shoulder and weighed 10 tonnes.
  • Despite their size, elephants make very little noise when walking due to spongy pads on the bottom of their feet that soften their footsteps.
  • The elephant’s trunk is very flexible and alone contains as many as 100,000 different muscles.

Physical Description

The African Plains savanna elephant or West African Steppe elephant (Loxodonta africana oxyotis) is the largest of all the living elephants.

Physical Description

  • It measures around 3.5m at shoulder height. Females are smaller and have shorter tusks than males.
  • Males weigh 6 tonnes on average, females 3 tonnes.
  • The African plains elephant is easy to differentiate from other elephants; it has very large ears, allowing it to radiate excess heat, and its front legs are noticeably longer than the hind legs.
  • The skin is grey, with a scarce covering of hair.


Background

Elephants have been hunted over the centuries for their tusks, which are traded as ivory. In the 1970-1980s, an increased demand in ivory had a negative impact on elephant numbers across much of the species' range. Kenya was one of the worst affected countries, where the population plummeted by perhaps as much as 85% between 1973 and 1989. Today, one of the major issues in elephant conservation is the conflict between elephants and a growing human population.

African Savanna Elephant Conservation

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) placed the African elephant on its most critically endangered list, Appendix I, in 1989. The ban led to more aggressive anti-poaching campaigns and increased investment in wildlife protection, and set African elephants on the road to recovery.

Protection of the species has been high-profile in many countries, often involving armed guards, and the Kenyan Wildlife Service famously burnt a stockpile of tusks in protest against the ivory trade.

WWF is involved in elephant conservation through its dedicated WWF African Elephant Programme. The programme aims to conserve forest and savanna elephant populations across Africa by supporting projects that improve protection and management, build capacity within range states, mitigate human-elephant conflict and reduce illegal trade.

IUCN lists the African savanna elephant as near threatened.
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY
African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana africana), bull in aggressive posture with raised head and extended ears.
© WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY

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