African Elephant Vs Asian Elephant: Interesting Land Mammal Differences

Tanya Parkhi
Feb 29, 2024 By Tanya Parkhi
Originally Published on Oct 22, 2021
Edited by Katherine Cook
African Elephant infant in Amboseli National Park
Age: 3-18
Read time: 5.7 Min

The elephant is a large, gray animal known for its long trunk, large ears, and pointy tusks and can be found in Asia and the African continent.

There are currently two distinct species of the African elephant, the African bush elephant also known as the African Savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the smaller, lesser-known African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis). The Asian elephant on the other hand refers to the species Elephas maximus, the only living species of the genus Elephas.

These herd animals are known for living in groups led by the oldest female, and there are certain social structures followed in each herd. Male elephants are known to travel solo, whereas herds contain female elephants and their offspring. Groups of unmated males also exist. These mighty creatures are said to be afraid of mice as they are afraid that they may crawl up the elephant's trunk, however no such evidence to back up these claims exist!

Read on to learn the fascinating differences between African and Asian elephants! For relatable content, check out African elephant facts and boar vs pig.

What is the main difference between Asian elephant and African elephant?

There are quite a lot of differences between the two species which can help us to tell them apart. These are:

Habitat: African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are found exclusively on the African continent, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the rainforests of Western and Central Africa. Most Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) are found in India with the rest being divided between Nepal, Cambodia, Vietnam, and China.

Size: The most obvious difference between the two elephant species is their size, with African Eeephants being much larger than Asian elephants. Male African elephants can reach a height of around 13 ft (4 m) whereas male Asian elephants often stand 11.4 ft (3.5 m) tall, with the females of both being slightly smaller. An adult female elephant is also called a cow. Interestingly, the tallest point on both Asian and African elephants differ, with it being the shoulder for the African variety, whereas for the Asian elephant it is the back. Adult African elephants are also heavier, weighing in at between 8818.5-17,637 lb (4000-8000 kg), whereas Asian elephants weigh between 6613.9-13,227.7 lb (3000-6000 kg).

Head shape: The most noticeable difference between Asian and African elephants is in their head shape. The African elephant's head is a single dome, and it is rounder and fuller. On the contrary, Asian elephants have a twin domed head with an indent running down the middle.

Tusks: The tusks of African elephants are significantly larger than Asian ones. Moreover, both male and female African savanna elephant and African forest elephant adults have tusks, whereas only male Asian elephants have tusks that are fully developed. Female Asian elephants' 'tusks' are known as tushes and are small and stubby in appearance, being quite rudimentary.

Ears: African elephants come out on top when it comes to ears, as they have very larger ears and their shape looks quite like the continent of Africa! On the other hand, Asian elephants' ears are smaller and semi-circular in shape. As both species of elephants live in regions with hot and dry climates, their ears are helpful in helping to dissipate heat from their bodies.

Skin: African savanna elephants have tougher, more wrinkled skin than the Asian variant. This is interestingly due to them living in a hotter, drier climate which causes their skin to crack. These cracks are formed by the outer layer becoming more thicker and more brittle until it forms deep cracks. These cracks hold water, which prevents the elephants from becoming dehydrated easily.

Trunks: The trunks of African and Asian elephants are visibly different as well, with an African elephant's trunk having more rings on it. It is also softer than the Asian elephant's. The African elephant's trunk tip ends are curved in a pincer-like way and can manipulate to pick up objects, resembling two distinct fingers. The Asian elephant only has this feature on one end of the trunk tip, and they cannot pick up things in the same way, instead using the underside of their trunks to hold objects against.

Toenails: The number of toenails possessed by each elephant species differs as well, by which we can easily identify them. African bush elephants (Loxodonta africana) have four toenails on the front feet and three on the back feet. African forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) have five toenails on the front feet and four on the back feet and lastly Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) possess five toenails on the front feet and four on the back feet.

Can African elephants mate with Asian elephants?

Both elephants do have the same number of chromosomes so it is genetically possible for them to procreate, however, it is unknown whether the offspring birthed would be healthy until reaching maturity or not.

The two elephant species are not closely related enough, even belonging to two different genera. Enough evidence is not supported to decide whether the crossbreeding of African and Asian elephants is safe enough, as it has only been attempted once. In 1978, the elephant calf Motty was born in the Chester Zoo of England and possessed features of both Asian and African elephants. It was born healthy, however, it died at the age of two weeks due to infection.

Asian elephant with its herd in Sri Lanka

Is African elephant more aggressive than Asian elephant?

Though the males of both African and American varieties can be seen as aggressive and non-compliant at times, it is believed that generally Asian elephants are easier to tame and are calmer in nature.

Male elephants can go through a phase called 'musth', in which their testosterone levels rise greatly and they can go wild. In this state, they are a danger to everyone and everything around them and cannot be contained. A male African savanna elephant is also stronger than an African forest elephant or Asian elephant, both of which are much smaller.

Do female Asian elephant have tusks?

Female Asian elephants do not have full-sized tusks, though male Asian elephants have tusks. They have growths called 'tushes' instead, which are tusks that protrude 1-2 in (2.5-5.1 cm) from the lips. This gives them a higher chance of surviving when being hunted by illegal poachers, who remove the tusks from elephants and sell them as ivory. On the other hand, female African elephants do possess tusks.

As the tusks of elephants contain sensitive nerves and are attached to the skull, they cannot be removed without ultimately killing the animal.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for African elephant Vs Asian elephant: Interesting land mammal difference then why not take a look at Are snails born with shells? Amazing snails body facts revealed!, or Are hamsters nocturnal? Quirky facts for pet hamsters owners?

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Written by Tanya Parkhi

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Economics

Tanya Parkhi picture

Tanya ParkhiBachelor of Arts specializing in Economics

Tanya is a skilled content creator with a passion for writing and a love for exploring new cultures. With a degree in Economics from Fergusson College, Pune, India, Tanya worked on her writing skills by contributing to various editorials and publications. She has experience writing blogs, articles, and essays, covering a range of topics. Tanya's writing reflects her interest in travel and exploring local traditions. Her articles showcase her ability to engage readers and keep them interested.

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