Elephants are known for their size. If you have ever seen one at the zoo or safari park, you know just how big these mammals can get. Have you ever asked the question, “why are elephants so big?”
Are there any benefits to being so large? Our elephant conservation in zoos team has answered these questions and more for you! Here is why elephants are so big and why being large has helped them survive.
How big are elephants
The first thing to keep in mind is that there are three different kinds of elephants - the African savanna elephant, African forest elephant and Asian elephant. Each kind of elephant varies in size depending on its age and gender. Take a look at how big each kind of elephant is:
African savanna elephants
The African savanna elephant, also known as the African bush elephant, can get as tall as 10 to 13 feet and weigh as much as nine tons. Bull African savanna elephants (males) grow significantly larger than cow African savanna elephants (females). The largest African savanna elephant ever recorded was 13 feet tall and weighed 24,000 pounds.
African forest elephants
The African forest elephant is slightly smaller than the African savanna elephant. The average height for a bull African forest elephant is seven to nine feet, while the cow African forest elephant is five to seven feet tall. Both the bull and cow weigh an average of two to four tons.
Out of the three kinds of elephants, the Asian elephant is the smallest. The average height of an Asian elephant is six to nine feet and weighs up to two to five tons. There are three subspecies of Asian elephants - Indian, Sumatran and Sri Lankan. The Sumatran is the smallest kind of Asian elephant.
Which elephant is the largest?
There is a reason why people use the phrase “elephant-sized.” Elephants are the largest land mammal. Out of all the elephants, the African savanna elephant is the largest.
Why are elephants so big?
People tend to have the misconception that elephants evolved directly from the woolly mammoth. However, scientists have discovered this to be false. Modern-day elephants and woolly mammoths share a common ancestor. Around six million years ago, this ancestor split up into separate species.
What scientists have proposed is that the Asian elephant is more related to the woolly mammoth than the African elephant. So why are elephants so big? One of those theories is that elephants evolved to become so large due to a survival mechanism.
Being so large puts elephants at a survival advantage. Their size has helped them defend themselves, store fats and water better, digest more efficiently and develop a larger brain. Their largeness is what has helped them survive to this day.
The problems elephants face with being so big
Although being large is great for elephants, it has also caused them some problems. Elephants need lots of food. These large mammals eat up to 200 to 600 pounds of food each day. To eat this much food, elephants spend 12 to 18 hours eating.
Due to deforestation and human encroachment, many elephants have lost their access to food. This causes wild elephants to invade farmers’ crops and put themselves and humans at risk.
Their size also requires them to have plenty of room to roam to stay healthy. Zoo elephants need lots of space. Elephants need to remain active and have healthy diets to help them maintain a healthy weight. If elephants become overweight, it can affect their health and reproduction cycles.
How to support elephant conservation in zoos
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