The Living Edens-Etosha: In the Wild-Elephant
Image map
The ElephantThe African Elephant
Not only is the African elephant the largest animal you'll find in Etosha -- it's the largest living land animal in the world. African elephants can weigh more than six tons, and measure 10 feet high at the shoulder. How does an elephant get so big? From the get-go, elephants are fairly large. Even a baby, or calf, weighs about 200 pounds at birth and stands about three feet high.

Use That Trunk
For the calf to get bigger, it needs to eat more. To do that, a young elephant learns to use its trunk. An elephant's trunk is long, tube-shaped, and very versatile. It has two finger-like projections at the end that can be used to pick up food or other things, to pluck berries from a bush, or to probe and examine objects. In addition, the trunk can suck up water, which an elephant may then either drink by squirting into its mouth, or spray over its body to cool down. Finally, an elephant can make a trumpeting noise with its trunk if it feels threatened.

Brush Your Tusks
Aside from size, the most obvious difference between a young and full grown elephant is the presence of tusks. One tooth on each side of the elephant's upper jaw grows dramatically over the animal's lifetime, and eventually, these two teeth form the tusks. The tusks of a male elephant, or bull, grow longer and heavier over the course of its life, reaching over 10 feet long and over 200 pounds. Although female elephants' tusks also continue to develop, their growth is less pronounced. As a result, the tusks of a female elephant, or cow, tend to be more slender than those a male elephant the same age. An elephant uses its tusks for everything from fighting to digging to feeding to marking. Elephants have been known to use their tusks to push over trees, which they then feed on. When competing for mates, male elephants will use their tusks to duel against each other violently. More aggressive elephants tend to have shorter, broken tusks than their calmer counterparts. It is not uncommon, however, for an elephant to prefer using one tusk over another, and for the preferred tusk to be shorter than its companion.

A Day in the Life
A day in the life of an African elephant consists largely of roaming, feeding and residing at water holes, where the animals bathe and drink. Bulls usually travel alone or with other males, though small, temporary herds of bachelor males are known to sometimes form. Females form herds that include their young and other cows. Males will join the female herds at mating time.

When it's time to eat, African elephants consume grasses, roots, leaves, fruit, and on occasion, bark. An elephant will pull a clump of grass from the ground with its trunk and beat it against its leg to shake to dirt away. Adult elephants consume as much as 300 pounds of food per day, and they do it while travelling Etosha from end to end. When they aren't eating, elephants spend the rest of their days visiting water holes (usually several per day), where they often roll around in the mud and water to cool their sun-dried skin. Sometimes, elephants will submerge themselves in a water hole almost completely, leaving only the end of their trunks above the surface to allow breathing. At midday, when the sun is its hottest, the elephants become less active, but for the remainder of the day, until they sleep at midnight, the creatures are busy. When it is time to sleep, elephants will lean against a tree or on another elephant.

The Elephant

A Earful of Elephant Trivia
How do you tell the difference between an African elephant and its Asian counterpart? Just look at their ears. The one with the (much) bigger ears is the African elephant. One might not think that having such large ears would actually be useful, but it is. By flapping its ears, an African elephant can ward off pesky insects and fan its head with cooling air.

click here to return to the Etosha home page
In The Wild | Feed Me | Behind The Scenes | Trivia Quiz
Classroom Resources | Sand to Sea | Screen Saver | Related Links | Credits

click here to go to the PBS home page