African elephants are elephants of the genus Loxodonta (from the Greek words loxo (oblique sided) and donta (tooth)). The genus consists of two extant species: the African bush elephant and the smaller African forest elephant. Loxodonta is one of two existing genera of the family, Elephantidae. Fossil remains of Loxodonta have been found only in Africa, in strata as old as the middle Pliocene.
One species of African elephant, the bush elephant, is the largest living terrestrial animal, while the forest elephant is the third largest. Their thickset bodies rest on stocky legs, and they have concave backs. Their large ears enable heat loss. The upper lip and nose form a. The trunk acts as a fifth limb, a sound amplifier, and an important method of touch. African elephants’ trunks end in two opposing lips, whereas the Asian elephant trunk ends in a single lip.
Elephants have four molars; each weighs about 5 kg (11 lb) and measures about 30 cm (12 in) long. As the front pair wears down and drops out in pieces, the back pair moves forward, and two new molars emerge in the back of the mouth. Elephants replace their teeth four to six times in their lifetime. At about 40 to 60 years of age, the elephant loses the last of its molars and will likely die of starvation, a common cause of death. African elephants have 24 teeth total. Six on each quadrant of the jaw. The enamel plates of the molars are fewer in number than in Asian elephants.
The elephants’ tusks are firm teeth; the second set of incisors become the tusks. They are used for digging for roots and stripping the bark from trees for food; for fighting each other during mating season; and for defending themselves against predators. The tusks weigh from 23–45 kg (51–99 lb) and can be from 1.5–2.4 m (5–8 ft) long. Unlike Asian elephants, both male and female African elephants have tusks. They are curved forward and continue to grow throughout the elephant’s lifetime.
Elephants form deep family bonds and live in tight matriarchal family groups of related females called a herd. The herd is led by the oldest and often largest female in the herd, called a matriarch. Herds consist of 8-100 individuals depending on terrain and family size. When a calf is born, it is raised and protected by the whole matriarchal herd. Males leave the family unit between the ages of 12-15 and may lead solitary lives or live temporarily with other males.
Elephants are extremely intelligent animals and have memories that span many years. It is this memory that serves matriarchs well during dry seasons when they need to guide their herds, sometimes for tens of miles, to watering holes that they remember from the past. They also display signs of grief, joy, anger and play.
Recent discoveries have shown that elephants can communicate over long distances by producing a sub-sonic rumble that can travel over the ground faster than sound through air. Other elephants receive the messages through the sensitive skin on their feet and trunks. It is believed that this is how potential mates and social groups communicate.