African elephant (Loxodonta africana)
Popular and disputed like no other animal
Looking at an African elephant the first thing that becomes obvious is its huge size: African elephants are the largest mammals living on solid ground. They reach lengths up to 7,5 m and weights up to 7500 kg. Other characteristics are their large ears, the strong legs ressembling columns, the tusks, worn by males as well as females, and the trunk, of course. The trunk is kind of a multi-purpose tool. It is used to carry food and water to the mouth, to scent, to grope for things and as a tool to move things. It can also be used as a weapon.
African elephants inhabit different parts of Africa south of the Sahara. But nowadays their distribution range is just one third of the area they inhabited in former times. They can be found in savannas as well as in forests, in semi-deserts and in mountain regions up to 5000 m height.
A group of African elephants consists of several females and their young. In most groups the females are closely related. Males form groups of their own. They join the females during the mating season. Old males sometimes lead a solitary life. The young are born after a pregnancy of about two years. While giving birth the mother is supported by other females. These females help the mother caring for her young during the early time of its life. The young elephant is weaned after two years. When it is seven up to twelve years old it becomes sexually mature. African elephants reach an age of up to 70 years.
African elephants are vegetarians: the dominant part of their diet consists of grass, but also branches, leaves, fruits, buds and tubers are taken. Since Elephants are not able to digest their food very efficiently, they spend lots of time searching for food and feeding.
Since African elephants are the largest mammals living on solid ground, they don't have many predators. But there are some animals which might be dangerous to young elephants. Those are Hyaenas, Crocodiles, African hunting dogs and lions.
African elephants have been hunted for their tusks for a long time. The so called "ivory" was used as a source of all kinds of ornaments. 1989 international laws against "ivory-trading" were enacted, helping the stocks of African elephants to recover again - at least partly. Another problem is the overdevelopment of the areas inhabited by African elephants. In order to find enough food, elephants have to migrate and if they meet human settlements, conflicts will surely arise, because they destroy fields while searching for food. This conflict has become the most important issue in Elephant-conservation nowadays.
Unfortunatelly some of the states in Southern Africa pursue a policy of loosening the laws against "ivory-trading". They want to allow controlled hunting on African elephants. This became obvious during the conference on species conservation in Nairobi in April 2000. But they forget that loosening the laws will also encourage illegal hunting, because selling ivory would be lucrative again. Perhaps this would mean the irreversible end of the African Elephant.