Head of a African bush elephant

African bush elephant

African bush elephants are the largest living land mammals and the second tallest after the giraffe. The biggest ever recorded was a bull that weighed 10 tonnes and stood 4m at the shoulder. The large ears, formidable tusks and strong trunk all add to their physically striking appearance.

African elephants have remarkably complex and interesting social lives. Their society is guided by the oldest female called a matriarch. She determines when they eat, rest, bathe and drink. Since forest elephants were recognised as a separate species, African elephants have been referred to as savannah or bush elephants.

Scientific name: Loxodonta africana

Rank: Species

Common names:


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Map showing the distribution of the African bush elephant taxa

Species range provided by WWF's Wildfinder.

The African bush elephant can be found in a number of locations including: Africa. Find out more about these places and what else lives there.


The following habitats are found across the African bush elephant distribution range. Find out more about these environments, what it takes to live there and what else inhabits them.

Additional data source: Animal Diversity Web

Conservation Status

Near Threatened

  1. EX - Extinct
  2. EW
  3. CR - Threatened
  4. EN - Threatened
  5. VU - Threatened
  6. NT
  7. LC - Least concern

Population trend: Increasing

Year assessed: 2008

Classified by: IUCN 3.1

African bush elephants up close

eryone can recognise an elephant, although many do not realise that there are three species: Asian, African savannah and African forest. The African savannah elephant is probably the most familiar, with its large ears and long curving tusks. Elephants are famous for their good memories, that are a key feature in helping them to survive the variable, and often harsh, climate of the African plains.


The bulk of a savannah elephant's diet is made up of grass. African elephants' trunks have two 'fingers' which help them to pull up grass efficiently. They also feed on woody shrubs and trees in the dry season when grass is scarce. At least three quarters of an elephant's time is spent searching for food and eating. Their relatively inefficient digestive system means that they need to eat over 50 tonnes of food a year.


There are two species of elephant in Africa, the familiar savannah elephant and the little-known forest elephant. Savannah elephants live on grasslands across Eastern and Central Africa. They can have a dramatic impact on their surroundings, as they systematically destroy groves of trees. However, this destruction returns the land to grass and helps to maintain the African savannah as we know it.

Social behaviour

Elephants are very social animals. Family relationships between herd members are strong, and a female stays in her mothers' herd for her entire life. When males are around 6-7 years old, they leave the herd and form small groups of their own.

Although bull elephants spend a lot of time alone, they regularly meet up and renew their friendships. One of their favourite meeting places is around a water hole.

Family groups of females also keep in touch with neighbouring families, to whom they are often related, and may join up to search for food and water in times of hardship. The matriarch is particularly important when food and water are scarce.

Interesting feature

Herds of elephants are led by the oldest, dominant female, known as the matriarch. Using their fabled long memories, elephants can remember exactly where and when food and water can be found across their home range.

Droughts are common events in Africa, but occasionally last longer than usual, and put all animals under great stress as they search for water. It is during these times that a matriarch's knowledge is invaluable. A matriarch is most likely to have lived through similar shortages before and remember where the previous matriarch led the herd. Herds with young matriarchs are at great risk during prolonged droughts unless they can join up with groups led by more experienced females.

Characters we've followed

  • Image courtesy of Martyn Colbeck. Echo

    1945 - 2009 Echo has been a much-loved character on our screens since David Attenborough first went to film her in Kenya in the early 1990s.

BBC News about African bush elephant

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