Humans are the biggest threat to the world’s largest land mammal.

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Conservation Status:


  • Native to 37 African countries
  • Approximately 415,000 remain
  • Yearly 8% of population is poached
Scientific name

Loxodonta africana


2,000 to 6,100 kilograms (about 2 to 7 tons)


Up to 4 meters (13 feet)

Life span

60 to 70 years


Open and closed savanna, grasslands, and arid deserts




About 22 months


Humans and occasionally lions or hyenas


Where do elephants live?

They will live in almost any habitat that provides plentiful food and water. Their populations are scattered throughout the savannas of sub-Saharan Africa. About 70 percent of their range exists in protected land.

Physical Characteristics

What are African savanna elephants?

They are the world’s largest terrestrial mammal. There are two recognized subspecies of African elephants: the savanna (bush) and the forest elephant. Savanna elephants are larger than forest elephants and their tusks curve out, while forest elephants are darker and have tusks that are straighter and that point downward.

Behavior & Diet

Elephants have a very long nose, which also doubles as an arm.

Their trunk is a long nose that is used for breathing, smelling, drinking, trumpeting, and grabbing objects. Their trunks are also a grooming tool. Grooming consists of using their trunks to cover themselves with mud or water to maintain hydration. They have two fingerlike extensions on the tips of their trunks that are used for holding onto small objects. They also use their trunks to exhibit affection, by frequently touching and caressing one another.

They spend a lot of time eating.

It’s no great surprise these large animals love to eat. Elephants’ diet consists of grasses, fruits, roots, and bark, and spend the majority of their day roaming across large distances foraging for food. They can eat up to 136 kilograms (300 pounds) of food and drink 113 to 190 liters (30 to 50 gallons) of water in one day.

Elephants are friendly.

Much like humans, they are social creatures that live in small family groups that usually consist of an older matriarch and several generations of female relatives. Males are typically solitary once matured but may live in small groups of three or four bulls. They take care of weak or injured members and even appear to grieve over dead companions.

  • Elephant Greeting
  • Elephant Trunk-five
  • Elephant Billy Dodson
  • Elephant Billy Dodson
  • Elephant Billy Dodson
  • Elephant Billy Dodson
  • Elephant Craig R. Sholley
  • Elephant Joe Dodson
  • Elephant Robyn Gianni

Humans are poaching elephants for their ivory tusks.

The large tusks on either side of their face—used for foraging for food and water—have long been desired by people. The ivory trade is driven by consumer demand for products made from elephant tusks and supplied by a sophisticated international network of traffickers. Poachers kill this iconic species for its ivory tusks, which are then sold and made into anything from jewelry and crafts to musical instruments to religious objects. At current poaching rates, elephant populations may be extinct in the wild within our lifetimes.

Elephants have slow rates of reproduction.

They have longer pregnancies than almost any other mammal. They carry their calves for about 22 months, with cows usually bearing only one calf every three to six years. Their regeneration rate averages 5 to 6 percent annually, compared to the 8 to 9 percent poaching rates, resulting in a net loss in population numbers. Elephants are threatened with extinction as they are unable to sustain current population numbers if the high rate of poaching continues unabated.


Our solutions to protecting and conserving the African savanna elephant:

  • Give elephants room to roam.

    Wildlife corridors are large sections of land that allow wildlife to move from one national park to another—and even from one country to another. African Wildlife Foundation works with people on all levels— from governments to communities—to set land aside specifically for wildlife use, and in some cases, purchase land to set it aside for conservation. Habitat management poses a long-term threat to elephant population well-being. AWF is working in countries like Zambia to create protected spaces. To allow the elephant to move safely and freely, we worked with Zambia’s Sekute Chiefdom to create the Sekute Conservation Area, and in exchange for protecting wild spaces for wildlife, AWF rebuilt the Lupani School.

  • Empower community members to protect the elephants.

    AWF works with communities who live in close quarters with wildlife, to recruit, train, and equip wildlife scouts. Scouts monitor elephants and can prevent them from destroying crops, thereby preventing farmers from viewing them as pests, Scouts are also instrumental in deterring poachers. As a result, AWF can ensure enhanced protection of wildlife in these regions, like the Osupuko and Kitome Conservancies in Kenya, as well as provide additional employment opportunities to local communities. 11 of the 14 of the elephant populations AWF works with are now stable or increasing.

  • Raising awareness - China bans ivory trade.

    The remaining 415,000 of Africa’s savanna elephants have new hope for their future with China’s official announcement to shut down its domestic ivory trade - making it illegal to sell and buy ivory in the country. Since 2012, AWF has worked to fight the demand for elephant ivory in China and across the world, along with partner Wildaid and celebrity ambassadors like former NBA star, Yao Ming, actor Jackie Chan, and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson. These celebrity public awareness campaigns shed light on the ivory trade’s impact on populations and demonstrate the true horrors of elephant poaching. Since they first launched, public awareness around ivory products has increased, and tolerance for ivory products is decreasing. China’s commitment to implementing the ban on domestic ivory trade in 2018 will contribute to curbing poaching and the illegal trade in wildlife products.

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