Elephant or as they are scientifically known, Loxodonta africana (Blumenbach, 1797), belong to the order Proboscidae and the family Elephantidae.
Elephant, which have been aptly described as mountains of grey putty, are the largest of all land mammals with adult bulls, like the one shown above, weighing in at an average of 5500 – 6000kg (12100 – 13200 pounds). The elongated “nose” or proboscis, referred to as a trunk, is very distinctive of elephant, and is a highly muscular appendage capable of performing not only feats of amazing power, but also tasks of incredible precision.
Bulls stand up to 3m tall at the shoulder.
The ears are large and conspicuous and may be a meter wide and more than 1,5 m in length. They are richly supplied with large blood vessels and aid in keeping the animal cool. The tusks are modified upper incisors. The heaviest on record weighed in at 102,7 kg (226 pounds). The legs are heavy and terminate in large spongy, padded feet.
The small eyes of elephant have an iris of a warm brown to greenish colour. The eyelashes are long and coarse.
Elephant do not have tear ducts to drain away fluid produced to keep the eye moist and lubricated and may appear to “water” as this fluid spills out of the eye. Elephant do not have particularly good eyesight and rely mostly on their excellent sense of smell to warn them of danger. The skin of an elephant, shown close up in the above two photographs is thick, wrinkled, and sparsely covered by short bristly hairs. The colour of the skin is usually dark grey but can often take on the colour of soils that they wallow in, throw over themselves or spray onto themselves with their trunks.
Elephant feet have five toes on each of the front feet and four on the rear. They have distinct half moon shaped toenails. The front tracks of an elephant are circular and that of the rear (generally smaller) more oval in shape.
The feet have a thick, shock-absorbing layer of cartilage, which enables the elephant to walk extremely quietly. The sole of the foot is criss crossed with fissures that are as distinct to each individual as fingerprints are to humans.
The cylindrical shaped tail (about 1,5m in length in adult bulls) is flattened somewhat towards the end and is tufted with long, coarse black hairs up to 40cm long (about 16 inches).