Frequently asked African Elephant questions
These are some of the most frequently asked questions posed at Letaba Elephant Hall. They are organized into the following sections:
If you have a question which is not included below, see if you can find the answer on one of the sites listed on our links page. If not, feel free to send us a question. If we can answer it, we will include the question and answer on this page.
Elephants sleep for a total of four to five hours during a 24 hour period. They will normally sleep for a number of short periods rather than several hours in one go.
Yes, elephants will sometimes sleep lying down. Since they can feel threatened when they are not standing up, they will usually only do this away from roads or other public areas.
African elephants eat around 4-6% of their bodyweight per day. A large bull may eat up to 300 kg a day.
Only 44% of the food is assimilated and African elephants will excrete around 150 kg of dung each day.
An African elephant bull can drink up to 100 lt of water at a time, and 227 lt per day.
Elephants are able to eat a range of different foods. Their physical size, tusks and trunk mean they can access potential food from ground level up to 6m in height. As well as eating grass they are able to pick up fruit, nuts and seeds. They can pull off leaves and strip bark. They may even break off branches and uproot whole shrubs and small trees. Diet depends on habitat and varies across seasons. In general, elephants will eat grasses in the rainy season and more woody plants in the dry season.
The idea that old elephants will seek out a secret area to lay down and die is a popular myth. It featured in the Tales of the Arabian Nights when Sinbad the Sailor was taken by a group of elephants to an area strewn with elephant bones. More recently, the idea was promoted in several Tarzan movies.
When an old elephant's last tooth wears down, it finds it difficult to chew food. In its last days it may stay in marshy areas where it can easily find soft vegetation. This means many elephants die in similar locations, often far away from the movements of the main herds.
Elephants also sometimes collect the bones of dead elephants and pile them together. This can give the appearance of a constructed graveyard.
Elephants have strong social bonds and good memories but it is now known whether they can experience grief in the same way as humans.
They certainly seem to have a fascination with their dead. They will approach carcasses, touching and smelling them and sometimes trying to revive them. Mothers have been seen carrying their dead babies around for several days. Elephants will investigate old bones, pick them up and move them around.
They are also known to cover their fallen comrades with branches and debris. Other dead animals, including lion or even trampled hunters, may also be treated in this way.
An African elephant cow may first conceive from the age of 9 -11 years and the gestation period is almost 2 years. The interval between subsequent births can be anywhere between 4 to 9 years depending on conditions such as drought or overcrowding. Birth rates peak during the rainy season when conditions are most favourable for the new calf. Twin births have been known but are rare.
The gestation period for African elephants is 22 months. By 3 months the ears, tail and trunk are present.
African elephants are not territorial but they have ‘home ranges' in which they tend to remain. Ranges vary with habitat and can be from 14–8,700 km2. In Kruger National Park, home ranges vary from 126-1000 km2.
The 2005 census gave a figure of 12,467 elephants within Kruger National Park. Of these 1,769 were lone bulls and 10,698 were sighted within breeding herds.
The African Elephant Status Report published in 2002, gives an estimate of between 400,000 and 600,000 elephants throughout Africa.
Southern Africa is thought to have the highest number of elephants (estimated at 246-300,000) with Eastern Africa following (118-163,000). Estimated figures for Central Africa (16,500-196,000) are quite broad. West Africa (5,500-13,200) has the smallest and most fragmented population.
The largest elephant every recorded was 4m tall and weighed 12000 kg. It was shot in Angola in 1974. Its body is now on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington DC.
African elephants normally walk at around 6 km/h but can charge at 40 kmh/h.
The heaviest recorded ivory in the Kruger National Park belonged to Mandleve who died in 1993. His tusks weighed 69 and 73.5 kg each.
The longest ivory of any of the Magnificent Seven belonged to Shawu. His tusks measured 305 and 317 cm each. This is the longest ivory recorded in Southern Africa.
The largest current tusker is thought to be Mastulele, who can be seen predominately around the Letaba/Middelvlei area of Kruger, although his range does extend as far south as the Klaserie adjacent to the KNP.
The heaviest tusk ever recorded weighed 117 kg. It originated from Benin and was exhibited in Paris in 1900. Its whereabouts is no longer known.
The heaviest pair of tusks known to be in existence weigh 102 kg and 107 kg each. They originated from near Mount Kilimanjaro in East Africa and are currently owned by the Natural History Museum in London.
The longest pair of tusks known to be in existence measure 335 cm and 349 cm each. They originate from the Eastern Congo and are currently owned by the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
APPS: Smithers' Mammals of Southern Africa. A Field Guide, Struik, Cape Town, 2000
Blanc, Thouless, Hart et al: African Elephant Status Report 2002, The World Conservation Union, 2002
Bosman/Hall-Martin: The Magnificent Seven and the other great tuskers of the Kruger National Park, Human & Rousseau, Cape Town, 1994
Estes: The Behaviour Guide to African Mammals, The University of California Press, Berkeley, 1991 Wikipedia.com
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Did You Know?
- Many accounts of the park's early days can be found in the Stevenson-Hamilton Memorial Library.