The largest land mammal today but will the African Elephant be roaming the Savannah tomorrow.
Loxodonta africana africana.
The African Elephant of the Savannah.
It starts with a life – So tiny and fragile.
The little African elephant grows in its mother’s womb for nearly two whole years until it is born. Weighing in at 136 kg (300 lbs) or more and totaling almost a meter in height, the elephant is born quite large. Of course, by the time the little one is done growing, he or she will weigh in at around six tonnes and be almost four meters (13 feet) at the shoulder.
Likely to be born in eastern or southern Africa, this young elephant, also known as a calf, will travel the Savannah with a herd of females. Usually the females will be a family grouping of around ten, but sometimes the group reaches up to seventy elephants. During hard times such as drought or negative human-interaction, herds will band together to create a temporary grouping of up to 1,000!
The calf stays with its mother for many years, not leaving until after puberty. Nursing for approximately three to five years, the calf depends on its mother for a long time. After being weaned off its mother’s milk, the calf learns to forage with the rest of the herd. It learns which leaves, branches, and grasses are the best to eat, and in turn, forms a symbiotic relationship with the foliage. Many plants in the savannah depend on the elephants to spread seeds and pollen to survive.
Elephants are much like humans. The calf learns to play games with the other calves just like children do. Their games are even similar in some ways. As the calf grows older, it learns, just as humans do, how to act in social situations. Elephants mourn their dead by covering them in grasses and leaves; these traditions are passed on to the young and continued as they grow. The calf also learns how to show affection through touching each other and entwining trunks, much like humans holding hands.
As the calf matures and passes through puberty to become an adult at around 15 years of age, a divide begins to happen. The male calf, who has now become a bull, separates from the herd. He will go on to live on his own or possibly form a small alliance with other bulls. The female will stay with the herd, probably for the rest of her life. They may live to be as many as 70 years old.
Not all elephants are so lucky to live to be seventy. Even though killing elephants is illegal, it is not eliminated. Tens of thousands of elephants are still killed each year. Just 70 years ago, the lifespan of one elephant, the population was estimated to be as many as 3-5 million. Now the population is down to somewhere between 470,000 to 690,000. Less than 20% of their range is under formal protection, leaving elephants vulnerable to poachers. Elephants are killed daily for their ivory tusks or because humans are encroaching on the elephants territory and are then angry when the elephant enters their land. In as little as 50 years the African elephant may become locally extinct in areas such as a western Africa where elephant population is measured in only the hundreds per country.
Contributed by Nikela Volunteer Brittany Markley