Differences Between Asian and African Elephants

Closeup of an elephant's head and trunk

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All elephants might currently look the same to you, but after this quick article you will be able to determine the differences between an Asian and African elephant!

There are 3 species of elephant:

• African bush elephant, also known as African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana)

• African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis)

• Asian elephant (Elephas maximus)

There are also 4 subspecies of Asian elephant – Sri Lanken, Indian, Sumatran, and Borneo pygmy elephant.

The largest of the elephant species is the African bush elephant with males averaging 10.5 feet tall (3.2 meters) and weighing 13,200 pounds (6000 kg). Females are smaller than males.

The smallest elephant is the Borneo pygmy elephant. An adult male can be 5.6 to 8.6 feet tall (1.7-2.6 meters) and weigh on average 5500 pounds (2500 kg). Although they are the smallest elephant, they still weigh more than your average car!

How do you tell them apart?

The most noticeable difference is their ears. African elephants have larger ears and they are the shape of Africa. Asian elephants have smaller and rounder ears.

African elephants have larger ears because it is hotter in Africa and their large ears help keep them cool. Asian elephants live in cooler jungle areas so they do not require such large ears.

All African elephants have tusks, males and females. In Asian elephants, males have tusks and females may have very small tusks or no tusks. Sometimes male Asian elephants are without tusks as well.

All elephants have grey skin, but Asian elephants may have some areas of depigmentation, which is lightening of the skin or loss of pigment. These areas of depigmentation may be on the ears, trunk, forehead and surrounding areas.

Also, African elephants have more wrinkly skin.

Another way to tell them apart is by looking at the end of their trunk. An African elephant has 2 fingers at the end and an Asian elephant has only one.

The shapes of their heads are another easy well to tell them apart. The top of an African elephant’s head is one rounded dome whereas the top of an Asian elephant’s head has two rounded domes or humps.

An African elephant’s back will have a concave shape (curving in), and an Asian elephant may have a more straight or convex shape to their back (curving out or more humped).

Now let’s look at some pictures so you can see the differences!

Differences between Asian and African Elephants
(c) 123RF/Satjawat Boontanataweepol and Can Stock Photo/JohanSwanepoel

The elephant on the left is an Asian elephant and the one on the right is an African elephant. Notice the shape and size of the ears and the shape of the top of the head.

And from the side:

Differences between Asian and African elephants
(c) 123RF / Jan Havlicek and ewastudio

In the photo above, notice the differences in the ears, shape of the head, shape of the back, and how the African elephant has more wrinkly skin. The curve in the back is not always as obvious as in these photos.

Asian Elephant
Asian Elephant – Photo from Pixabay

In this photo of an Asian elephant, you can see the areas of skin that have depigmentation.

You should now be able to tell the differences between Asian and African elephants!

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