The African elephant (Loxodonta africana) is the largest living land animal. Most of its special characteristics area consequence of unique body size of three plus metres 10 feet) at the shoulder and up to five tonnes in weight. They have a disproportionately large head; toe nails instead of hooves; two breasts between the forelegs; testes carried in the body cavity, next to the kidneys; specialized grinding teeth; tusks nearly worth their weight in gold; a unique trunk; enormous ears and a 60-year life span.
Elephants once roamed throughout Africa. Now they occupy only one-fifth of the continent. Although they now number between 700,000 and one million, their range and numbers are dwindling rapidly. Poaching for ivory has over the past 20 years reduced most East African populations by 90 percent. Despite international concern for their threatened status, even conservative figures suggest that elephants will be virtually eliminated within the next 20 years.
Elephants occupy all African habitats from near desert to closed canopy forest. The inherent mobility of the animal allows it to select foods from a variety of habitats over a home range which may be thousands of square kilometres. The availability of grass for a good part of the year is important; the presence of perennial water within their range is essential. Elephants move daily and seasonally between different parts of the habitat: from woodland to grassland, from bushland to swamp, and back again.
Elephants are active both night and day, since their 16- to 20-hour waking
period must necessarily spill into the dark hours. The bulk of time is spent
feeding. A midday siesta in shade is common, and a period of deep sleep, with
most of the group even lying down, will occur at night if the group feels
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