African elephants are the largest living terrestrial mammal. They are a dull, brownish-grey color, and sparsely covered in black, bristle-like hairs. Their wrinkled skin and large ears increase surface area, keeping their body cool. Both males and females have tusks, or modified incisors, that grow throughout their lives; they also have a modified upper lip and nose – the trunk – that has 2 prehensile finger-like lips at the end, used for grasping small and large items.

Diet: The diet varies during the wet and dry seasons of Africa. When water is plentiful, elephants will eat grasses, leaves, fruits, and flowers. In times of drought, elephants feed on the woody parts of trees and shrubs. An adult elephant can eat 160 kilograms (350 pounds) of food a day! At Reid Park Zoo, our elephants are given a mix of hay, browse, pellets, and a variety of fruits and vegetables.

In the Wild: Elephants are highly social creatures, and live in groups called herds. Herds consist of the matriarch – the oldest female – related females, and their offspring. Males, or bull elephants, will live with the herd until sexual maturity, at which time they leave and form bachelor herds or live alone.  Elephants are also highly vocal. They can use subsonic grumbles heard 8 kilometers away, loud trumpets, and high pitched squeaks to communicate. Elephants are a keystone species; they are instrumental in keeping the savannas from turning into woodlands by knocking over trees and spreading seeds of the fruit they eat.

Conservation issues/actions: Poaching is one of the biggest threats to elephant populations, because they are illegally hunted for ivory and meat. Elephants are also greatly affected by climate change, as they are forced to alter their home ranges in search of food. This places them in close human contact; they have been documented eating crops and damaging water supplies of local farmers in the search for food. Habitat fragmentation and the expansion of human populations into the migratory path of elephants creates human/wildlife conflicts.

At the Zoo:

In 2014, as part of the elephant species survival plan (SSP), the Reid Park Zoo was lucky to have the first elephant born in Arizona. In addition to our elephant SSP, the Reid Park Zoo supports the Tarangire Elephant Project. This project, located in Tanzania, researches population numbers, movement, and herd dynamics in wild elephants. Additionally the Tarangire Elephant Project has worked to protect over 1,000,000 acres of elephant habitat to protect elephant migratory paths from development, in an effort to reduce elephant/human conflict. 

Check the event board in the front plaza when you arrive, there may be an opportunity to catch a session with an Elephant Keeper at the training wall in the pavilion of the Jim Click Elephant Care Center. Learn how Keepers care for these intelligent animals and see an elephant up close!


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Species Name:
African elephant
Scientific Name:
Loxodonta africana
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