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7 elephant facts you should know

Brush up on the basics of the world's largest land mammal

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Elephants, found in both Africa and Asia, are vital to maintaining the rich biodiversity of the ecosystems that they share with other species.

WWF focuses its conservation efforts on saving the world’s largest mammal in sites across both continents. We work with wildlife managers, governments and local communities to stop poaching, reduce human-wildlife conflict and improve monitoring and research.

Here’s a snapshot of what you should know about the species:

herd of Asian elephants © Ola Jennersten / WWF-Canon
herd of African elephants © Brent Stirton / Getty Images

1. Asian and African elephants differ in both size and the shape of their ears. Asian elephants are smaller than their African brethren, and their ears are straight at the bottom, distinct from the large fan-shaped ears of the African species. Only some Asian male elephants have tusks, while African elephants—both male and female—sport the ivory.

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2. Elephants have the longest gestation period of any mammal—22 months. Females give birth every four to five years. Matriarchs also dominate the complex social structure of elephants and calves, while male elephants tend to live in isolation or in small bachelor groups.

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3. Elephants are either left- or right-tusked, and the dominant tusk is generally smaller because of wear and tear from frequent use.

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4. An elephant trunk has up to 150,000 muscles in it. A human has more than 600 muscles in his/her entire body. Elephants use their trunks to pick up objects, trumpet warnings and greet one another.

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5. Elephants are important ecosystem engineers. At least a third of tree species in central African forests rely on seeds passing through an elephant’s digestive tract before they can germinate.

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A flying squad team, the trained elephants and mahouts, in Tesso Nilo National Park in Indonesia. 

6. As wild spaces shrink, elephants and humans are forced into contact and often clash. WWF helps to mitigate elephant-human conflict through various programs, including electric fences to protect crops and elephant “flying squads” to safely drive wild elephants away from farms and back into the forests.

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7. Tens of thousands of elephants are killed each year by poachers for their ivory. WWF combats this poaching and illegal wildlife trade by training and equipping rangers and community-based organizations to tackle poaching, and strengthening national and international laws and enforcement.

Learn more about elephants and WWF’s campaign to stop wildlife crime.