African elephants are the species of elephants in the genus Loxodonta (Greek for 'oblique-sided tooth', one of the two existing genera in Elephantidae. Although it is commonly believed that the genus was named by Georges Cuvier in 1825, Cuvier spelled it Loxodonte. An anonymous author romanized the spelling to Loxodonta and the ICZN recognizes this as the proper authority.
Fossil Loxodonta have only been found in Africa, where they developed in the middle Pliocene.
African elephants are bigger than Asian Elephants. Males stand 3.6 m (12 ft) tall at the shoulder and weigh 5,400 kg (12,000 lb), while females stand 3 m (9.8 ft) and weigh between 3,600 and 4,600 kg (7,900 and 10,000 lb). However, males can get as big as 6,800 kg (15,000 lb).
Elephants have four molars; each weighs about 5 kg (11 lb) and measures about 30 cm (12 in) long. As the front pair wear down and drop out in pieces, the back pair shift forward and two new molars emerge in the back of the mouth. Elephants replace their teeth six times. At about 40 to 60 years of age the elephant no longer has teeth and will likely die of starvation, a common cause of death.
Their tusks are teeth; the second set of incisors become the tusks. They are used for digging for roots and stripping the bark off 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. The enamel plates of the molars are lesser in number than in Asian elephants.
- African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana).
- African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis).
- Loxodonta adaurora, extinct, presumed antecedent of the modern African elephants.
- Loxodonta atlantica, extinct.
- Loxodonta exaptata, extinct.
Bush and Forest Elephants were formerly considered subspecies of the same species Loxodonta africana. However, they are nowadays generally considered to be two distinct species. The African Forest Elephant has a longer and narrower mandible, rounder ears, a different number of toenails, straighter and downward tusks, and considerably smaller size. With regard to the number of toenails: the African Bush Elephant normally has 4 toenails on the front foot and 3 on the hind feet, the African Forest Elephant normally has 5 toenails on the front foot and 4 on the hind foot (like the Asian elephant), but hybrids between the two species commonly occur.
Poaching significantly reduced the population of Loxodonta in certain regions during the 20th century. An example of this poaching pressure is in the eastern region of Chad—elephant herds there were substantial as recently as 1970, with an estimated population of 400,000; however, by 2006 the number had dwindled to about 10,000. The African elephant nominally has governmental protection, but poaching is still a serious issue.
Human encroachment into or adjacent to natural areas where bush elephants occur has led to recent research into methods of safely driving groups of elephants away from humans, including the discovery that playback of the recorded sounds of angry honey bees are remarkably effective at prompting elephants to flee an area. Some elephant communities have grown so large, in Africa, that some communities have resorted to culling large amounts to help sustain the ecosystem.
Elephants are well known for their intellgence, having the largest brain of any land animal. They have been known to use their trunks as arms and have been seen using sticks to swat flies and scratch themselves. Some have also chewed on the leaves of Boraginaceae family, which induces labor.
Elephants are the only known species of animal other than humans and neandrathals known to have a death ritual. They have shown keen interest in the bones of their own kind, investigate the skeletons even of unrealated elephants and remaining very quiet. South African biologist Anthony Martin-Hall witnessed a ritual around the death of a matriarch. The entire family of the matriarch were all gently touching her bodhy, trying to lift her. A calf was observed to make scream-like weeping sounds, but then the herd became very quiet. They began to throw leaves and dirt over her, also breaking branches for the purpose. The elephants spent the next two days standing over the body, sometimes leaving for food and water, but always returning. Elephants have behaved the same way towards some people as well.