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The average adult African elephant weighs up to 6 tons, making them the heaviest land animal on earth! The Asian elephant is slightly more petite, weighing in at a casual 5 tons!

Despite their gigantic size elephants are surprisingly graceful. A herd is capable of passing by a human campsite almost completely undetected because they’re so quiet (when they choose to be).

So even though elephants weigh a lot, they’re not the clumsy giants some expect them to be. Read on for the complete story on how much does an elephant weigh.

How Much Does an African Elephant Weigh?

Big bull elephant mock charging, in Tarangire

African elephants are the giants, even by elephant standards! An adult male can carry a full 6 tons with gentle grace. Generally, the females are slightly more petite but can still weigh in at a whopping 3.6 tons or more sometimes.

How do they acquire such impressive robustness on a diet of plants, in terrain where food can sometimes be scarce? Well, they graze all day every day.

In fact, grazing is such a large part of their daily habits they typically spend about 12-18 hours per day foraging for food. Their bodies are well-adapted to sourcing nutrition in unusual places, enabling them to survive in conditions which can range from arid and dusty to lush woodlands.

Impressive Elephant Eating Habits

The elephant’s ability to store fat and find sustenance is even more impressive when you consider that the food they eat is largely made up of cellulose.

Cellulose is the compound that makes up the cell walls in the plants that elephants eat. It’s a group of sugars and while it is digestible, elephants need to eat a large volume of food in order to get the nutrients from inside those cell walls.

What do African elephants eat in a day?

Large male elephant feeding from a tree in Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

Their diet is varied, but as herbivores, everything they consume is plant matter.

One of their favourite foods, perhaps considered a delicacy by elephants, is a thorn bush called an acacia tree. It has small green leaves and a yellowish trunk, but its sizable thorns are the most distinguishing characteristic.

African elephants are able to consume an entire acacia tree – everything – from the delicate leaves, the trunk, the thorns and even the roots!

Elephants also love to find sweet fruits and green shrubs. Often, these are only available seasonally. Year-round, African elephants enjoy grasses, twigs, leaves, fresh green shoots, bark and vines.

African elephants will typically eat 4-6% of their body weight every single day in order to sustain that size. That translates to roughly 300 kg of food of mostly lightweight leafy greens!

Elephants usually wash down their daily intake with around 225 litres of water!

How much does an adult elephant weigh?

Different elephant species have different weight ranges. We know that the African elephant is the largest and that the males tend to be larger than the females. The Asian elephant is slightly different.

It weighs a more petite maximum weight of 5 or 6 tons (as opposed to the African elephant’s 7 or 8 tons).

Elephant’s growth is slow in comparison to most animals and even humans. Their gestation period is almost 2 full years (22 months). The calves will then remain dependant on the mother for everything, from nutrition (they drink their mother’s milk) through to hygiene and learning appropriate behaviour as well as survival skills.

Elephants achieving adulthood and adult weight

Elephant herd comes down for a drink in Namibia's Caprivi Strip

Like humans, elephants only emerge from their adolescent teenage years when they’re around 17 years old. It can sometimes take as long as 20 years for an elephant bull to achieve its full weight and height.

During these formative years the elephant will remain with the herd. They are fed and tended by their own mothers but are co-parented by the entire herd. Elephants have exceptionally close-knit family structures.

At the tender age of 10 many young bulls break away from the herd and form their own smaller groups, which are known as bachelor pods. Young females tend to stay with the herd. This phase will last for around 7 years until the young elephants reach adulthood.

It is not until adulthood that elephants are ready to find a mate, despite them being sexually mature in a physical sense when they enter adolescence.

How much does an elephant weigh at birth?

At birth, a baby elephant weighs an enormous 77-113 kg! Newborn elephants are tiny in comparison to their parents, weighing only around 2-4% of an adult’s size. They will consume 11.4 litres of their mother’s milk each and every day.

Much like humans, elephants are born with an under-developed brain. Some researchers like to call their first few months out of the womb a final “trimester” – that’s if you want to use the same terminology applied to humans.

The underdeveloped brain of the newborn elephant makes it dependent on its mother, again, much like humans. It’s almost like a blank slate and the mother has to equip that blank slate with everything it will need to thrive on its own (as part of the herd) one day.

An elephant’s early years (as a 2-ton child!)

Baby elephant and his family at a waterhole in Namibia

Researchers say that the bond between a mother and a calf is exceptionally deep. The formative years in an elephant’s life are crucial for its survival but are also seen as an extension of their social habits – to nurture and to take pleasure in bonding.

In fact, baby elephants are known for holding the tails of their mothers. This helps them to feel safe, much like human adults hold their children’s hands when they are walking.

For the first three years of its life, the baby elephant will source all of its nutrition from its mother’s milk. That said, weaning takes place in a very subtle sense at the end of the first year, with some solid foods and vegetation being introduced.

An elephant calf will continue to drink its mother’s milk for up to 10 years. This varies – some wean fully by three years while others wean even earlier when a sibling arrives. Some elephants simply continue to drink for ten years purely for comfort!

How much does an elephant trunk weigh?

An elephant’s trunk weighs around 140 kg (depending on the elephant), making it exceptionally heavy. The trunk is probably the most distinguishing feature about an elephant – it can hold up to 12 litres of water at one time!

The elephant uses its trunk for smelling, drinking water, breathing underwater, and picking or foraging for food. They also use their trunks as a hand – gripping and holding items with it.

The Asian elephant has one “finger” (a lip-like structure which helps it to hold onto items) on its trunk while the African elephant has two, as an adaptation to survive in their various habitats.

An elephant trunk is not complete at birth. Elephants are born with short trunks (in proportion to the rest of the body) which gradually extend.

An elephant’s trunk is also incredibly nimble and capable of lifting tiny objects. This dexterity is thanks to over 40 000 muscles that make the trunk fully functional. Considering the human body only contains a total of 639 muscles, this is seriously impressive!

How much do elephant tusks weigh?

Huge tusker in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Elephant tusks are usually very heavy, so heavy that you will struggle to even lift them off the ground. Male adult African elephant tusks typically weigh over 100 kg. The females’ tusks are slightly less prominent and smaller.

The heaviest tusk ever weighed was 142 kg. That’s a lot of ivory so it’s easy to see why elephants are such a prize for poachers.

Tusks usually first emerge when an elephant is around two years old. They actually start as large incisor teeth which curve upwards and continue to grow. They serve a number of important functions for elephants; they can assert their dominance, lift and move heavy items like bushes and small trees, and even comfort their young ones.

Elephant teeth are completely replaceable

Elephant teeth are also fascinating. They’re the perfect example of how various animals are adapted to survive in their own habitat.

Elephants don’t grow one set of baby teeth which are replaced by a new set as they enter adulthood.

Instead, their baby teeth will remain until they are damaged or fall out. They are covered with an enamel cap to protect them and they grow larger in proportion to the elephant’s body. The enamel cap eventually wears down. When a tooth is lost or broken, a new one will simply replace it – on demand!

A single tooth can be replaced as many as 6 times in an elephant’s life. Each new tooth will grow back larger and stronger than the previous one.

African and Asian elephants – telling them apart

African vs Asian Elephants

The two cousins are from different continents and have adapted to survive in different terrain. There are also differences in their genetics which makes it impossible for them to interbreed.

African elephants, other than being significantly larger than Asian elephants, also have a more wrinkled skin in comparison to the smoother Asian elephant.

You can also tell them apart by their ears – African elephants have large ears that are shaped like Africa (as irony would have it). Researchers believe this helps them to cool themselves in the humid African climate. Asian elephants have smaller ears that are shaped like India.

There are other details. Their body shapes differ, with the Asian elephants having a more curved back. Only Asian elephant males grow proper tusks but African males and females develop their famed ivory.

Another easy way to tell them apart? If you’re in Asia, you’re most likely seeing an Asian elephant. If you’re in Africa, you’re most likely seeing an African elephant!

If you were to see elephants side by side then the easiest way to tell them apart is by how much they weigh. You don’t need scales to see how African elephants are the biggest of all the planet’s land animals.

Let’s hope we can preserve the wilderness so these majestic animals have space to thrive.