Elephants are the largest land animals. There are elephants that live in Africa and elephants that live in Asia.

What's the difference between Asian and African elephants?

A group of African elephants ©Getty Images

A group of African elephants ©Getty Images

African elephants are bigger than Asian elephants and have larger ears. 

Asian elephants have smaller ears because they live in forests, and big ears would get torn in the branches.

There are three groups of Asian elephants - Indian, Sumatran and Sri Lankan. The elephants of Borneo may be another sub species (small group within a group or kind). 

An Asian elephant enjoying a cool down in a river. ©Getty Images

An Asian elephant enjoying a cool down in a river. ©Getty Images

 In Africa there are elephants that live on the savannah, or grasslands, and elephants that live in the tropical forests. The ones that live in the tropical forests are a bit smaller than the grasslands elephants, with straighter and thinner tusks. Their ears are more rounded and their skulls have a different shape.

 

Elephant Bodies

Elephants are huge. They are the largest of all the land animals. They have very big legs and round feet. They have short tails.

©Getty Images

©Getty Images

All elephants have trunks, which have two points on the end that act like fingers. Trunks help an elephant pick up tiny objects and large logs. Trunks are used for smelling, breathing, touching, eating and drinking. Adults use their trunks to stroke the young ones. The trunk is used like a hose to sprinkle dust over their bodies to cool them and protect them from insect bites, or to spray water into their mouths or over their bodies. To be able to do all this, an elephant's trunk has about 40,000 muscles in it!

A male African elephant. ©Getty Images

A male African elephant. ©Getty Images

Ears are important. The large ears help the elephant keep cool because the veins are near the surface so blood cools in the ears on its way around the elephant's body.

Some elephants have tusks, which are big front teeth. The tusks help the elephant pick up food and help the animal protect itself. The bottom teeth are inside the elephant's mouth and are used to chew food.

Diet

Elephants eat large amounts of leaves, grass, fruit and bark. They spend about three quarters of the day feeding, eating up to 900 kilograms of food a day. They drink about 200 litres of water each day.

Life cycle

A baby elephant. ©Getty Images

A baby elephant. ©Getty Images

Elephants live in large groups called herds. A female elephant is called a cow, the male is a bull and a baby elephant is called a calf.

An elephant cow gives birth to a calf about 22 months after mating with a bull elephant. Elephants are mammals, so a calf drinks milk from its mother. Elephants do this until they are about two years old. 

All the adults in the group help look after and teach the young elephants.

Elephants live for about 70 years.

Conservation status and threats

African elephant calf suckling milk from its mother. ©Getty Images

African elephant calf suckling milk from its mother. ©Getty Images

Asian elephants are classified as Endangered, African elephants as Vulnerable (close to being endangered.)

Threats include habitat loss and conflict with humans. As their space gets smaller, elephants are in closer contact with humans. Elephants knock down fences and eat crops, so are pests to farmers.

Elephants are also killed for their ivory tusks,  and even though that trade is banned, it continues illegally.

Watch a video about ways that elephants communicate and play:

http://video.nationalgeographic.com.au/video/animals/mammals-animals/elephants/elephant-gestures-play

Read some fun facts about elephants:

http://www.happyelephantcontest.com/fun-facts/