Elephants

African Elephants

African

Flora was born in 1982 in the wilds of Zimbabwe, Africa. She was orphaned at age two an... Learn More

African

Nosey was born in Zimbabwe in 1982. She was captured from the wild in 1984 and brought... Learn More

African

Sukari was born wild in Zimbabwe in 1984 and imported to the United States in 1985. Upo... Learn More

African

Tange was born in the wilds of Africa in 1973 and then captured and imported with other... Learn More

Asian Elephants

Asian

Billie was born in India in 1962. Like most Asian elephants arriving in the United Stat... Learn More

Asian

Debbie was wild born in Asia in 1971, captured at a young age, and sent to the United S... Learn More

Asian

Minnie was born in Asia in 1966. She was taken from the wild and exported to North Amer... Learn More

Asian

Ronnie was born wild in Asia in 1966. Like so many other circus elephants, she was capt... Learn More

Asian

Captured in Thailand as a calf, Sissy first appeared in the United States on exhibit at... Learn More

Asian

Tarra was born in Burma (now Myanmar) in 1974. At six months old, she was separated fro... Learn More

About Elephants

Elephants are the only remaining members of the Proboscidea order of mammals. The order included the extinct wooly mammoth and American mastodon. 

Elephants are a “keystone species.” If a keystone species disappears through extinction or removal, the entire ecosystem would change drastically. Other species rely on the keystone species for survival.

Today there are three surviving elephant species:

  • Asian elephant (Elephas Maximus)
  • African savanna elephant (Loxodonta Africana)
  • African forest elephant (Loxodonta Cyclotis)
African Elephant Grazing in a Field at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee

African Elephants

African savannah elephants (Loxodonta Africana) live in the grasslands of sub-Saharan Africa. African forest elephant (Loxodonta Cyclotis) live in the Congo River Basin in western central Africa. 

Asian Elephant Sissy, Formerly Gerry II, Grazing at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee

Asian Elephants

Among Asian elephants (Elephas Maximus), there are three subspecies: Indian, Sri Lankan, and Sumatran. These are distinguished by physical traits related to their geographic location. 


In the wild, elephants are migratory, walking miles each day. They form intricate family structures and grieve for their dead in a more-than-instinctive way. They show humor and express compassion.

Physical Traits

Ears

  • There are several anatomical and behavioral differences between the different species. Most noticeable is the difference in ears.
    • African savanna elephants have large ears shaped much like the continent of Africa.
    • African forest elephants’ ears are more oval-shaped. 
    • Asians, who live in cooler forest areas, have smaller ears.

Body

  • Asian elephants also have rounded backs and relatively smooth skin.
  • African elephants display a sway back and very wrinkled skin.

Tusks

  • Elephants are hypsodonts, with continually growing teeth.
  • African elephants of both sexes generally (but not always) grow long incisor teeth called tusks. Among Asian elephants, only males exhibit tusks, and not all males have them.
  • Tusks are modified, elongated incisors, and are therefore essentially no different from other teeth, continuously growing throughout an elephant’s life.
  • It is common for elephants in the wild and in captivity to periodically chip distal portions of their tusks as they engage in natural foraging and social behaviors.
  • Elephants in captivity that do not have the opportunity to engage in natural foraging and social behaviors due to limited habitat access and small enclosure size frequently require routine tusk trims in order to prevent overgrowth.
  • Approximately 1/3 of a tusk is hidden from view, embedded deep in an elephant’s head. This portion of the tusk contains a core pulp cavity that contains tissue, blood, and nerves. The approximately 2/3 portion of the tusk that is visible is made of dentine with an outer layer of enamel.
  • The average size and length of tusks have decreased over time, believed to be a side effect of selective hunting of bull elephants with larger tusks. Therefore, the inherited genetics for large tusks is becoming increasingly rare.
  • Tusks are used for a variety of tasks in wild elephants. This includes foraging, digging, moving objects, stripping bark, and as weapons of protection.
  • Evidence suggests that some elephants may prefer one tusk over the other, similar to handedness in humans.

Trunk

  • Asian elephants have one small finger-like projection at the end of the trunk. African elephants have two “fingers.”
  • These “fingers” are very sensitive and make it possible for elephants to pick up very small objects.
  • Elephants have more than 100,000 muscles in the trunk making them very flexible and strong enough to lift trees.
Social Structure
  • All elephants are herd animals with a very definite social structure.
  • Herds are led by a matriarch, usually the oldest female, and are made up of daughters, sisters and their offspring.
  • Male elephants stay with the herd through adolescence and then move away as they grow older.
  • Male elephants often stay independent, but sometimes band together in bachelor pods.
  • African savannah elephants can live in very large herds consisting of anywhere from 20 to 70 individuals, while the African forest elephants like the Asian elephants generally live in smaller herds.
Diet
  • All elephant species are herbivores, consuming only plant material. You can help The Sanctuary feed an elephant for a day with a donation of $50.
  • The elephants of Africa are browsers, and eat mostly grasses, turning to leaves, twigs, bark, flowers, and fruits when the grasses are not available.
  • Asians are grazers and consume a similar range of plants, including large amounts of bamboo.
Herd of African Elephants at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee

Educational Opportunities

Interactive Exhibits at The Elephant Discovery Center in Hohenwald, Tennessee

The Elephant Discovery Center

Hands-on self-guided exhibits and educational programming that explore the many ways elephants shape our world.

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Student on a Virtual Field Trip to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee

Distance Learning

Live, on-demand, and asynchronous content. Our programs are fun, educational, and cater to all ages.

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EleCam

We use a system of solar-powered cameras to locate and monitor the elephants and to offer you, our friends and supporters, frequent glimpses of the elephants we are so fortunate to have in our care.

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