Elephants: African vs. Asian elephant

Where are the differences between the African and the Asian Elephant? And what do they have in common? Receive more information about the gentle giants in our blog article.


Are you thinking about joining an elephant conservation project in Africa or Sri Lanka or would you just like to learn more about your favourite animal? Then this blog post might be interesting for you!

How does the African elephant differ from the Asian elephant?

First of all, there are no similarities regarding their habitats. The endangered African Savannah or Forest elephants (Loxodonta africana und Loxodonta cyclotis) lives, like their names suggest, in drier savannahs or desert areas of South or East Africa or in evergreen tropical humid areas of Central Africa, especially in the Kongo.

The highly endangered Asian elephant can be found in tropical or subtropical rainforests, evergreen forests or scrubland in many central Asian countries; from China to India and Indonesia.


Body shape of the African elephant

The main characteristic of the African elephant is its impressive size. With a shoulder height of up to 3,30 meters (savannah elephant), an average length of 4 to 5 metres and a weight between 4 and 7 tons the elephant is the largest mammal living on land.

The large ears are striking but important, because by flapping them elephants can cool down their body temperature. One other striking characteristic are the tusks which are distinctive with female and male elephants, but will most likely grow longer with males whose tusks can reach a length of up to 3 meters.

The skull has a round shape, their trunk is equipped with two “fingers” and their lower lip is round and rather short. The skin of the African elephant is quite wrinkly, and their trunk is marked with many rings.

Regarding their body shape it can be said that their shoulders usually mark the highest point of an elephant and their tummy line draws a sloping curve from the front down to the hind legs. African elephants usually have four toenails on their front and three toenails on their back foot.


Body shape of the Asian elephant

In comparison, the Asian elephant is slightly smaller than its African relative with a height of below three meters, an average length of 3,5 meters and a weight between 2 to 5 tons.

Their ears are also smaller and do not reach over the neck. The tusks of the Asian elephant are only developed with males, in some rare cases females have very small tusks. In contrast to the African elephant, the skull of the Asian elephant shows two knuckles on the forehead and their trunk differs due to only one “finger” and a smaller number of rings. Their lower lip has a pointed shape and is relatively long.

When looking carefully at the skin of the Asian elephant, it appears much smoother that the one of the African elephant, and shows some pinkish spots, especially in the area of the forehead, ears or chest.

The highest point of the Asian elephant is not the shoulder but their back. Their tummy line usually draws a straight line but can show a slight curve downwards in the middle. Compared to their African relatives, the Asian elephant has developed one toenail more in the front and back foot, showing five on the front and four on the back foot.


Are there also similarities?

In conclusion it can be said that both species are highly intelligent, can reach an age between 60 and 80 years and live in a herd with a matriarch leading them, which is generally an older cow.

Same social structures

The herd consists of elephant cows, youngsters and young females. The animals have a very close bound, so that females will protect the young ones in case of danger. Male elephants stay with their mothers for a couple of years before they will join or form a bachelor herd.

Same feeding behaviour

On both continents, elephant tend to spend between 17 and 19 hours searching for food and also the search for waterholes to drink and bathe takes a lot of time. Especially in Africa, elephants roam large areas while searching for food and, in the dry season, can heavily impact the ecosystem.

Threatened by the Human-Wildlife-Conflict

The Asian elephant is living closely together with humans in many regions in Asia and is traditionally used as a working animal but was never fully domesticated. Due to the increasing population and use of land surface in Asia, but also in Africa, habitats and traditional routes of the elephants are becoming restricted and have a negative impact on the development of the populations.

Lots of Natucate trips, courses and elephant projects offer you the chance to observe both representatives in the wild. When joining our volunteer project in Sri Lanka, you can actively contribute to protecting the Asian elephant and experience the gentle giants up close. The African elephant, however, can be spotted during one of our field guide courses in Botswana, a safari in Zambia or a trip into the breathtaking Okavango Delta.

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