Can Elephants Jump?

Written by Krishna Maxwell
Updated: September 28, 2022
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  • Elephants do not jump. Their anatomy is not suited for it and they do not need to jump.
  • Elephants are too heavy to jump.
  • Elephants have relatively weak ankles for their size, which which prevents them from jumping.

Can elephants jump? Perhaps you’ve heard the rumor that elephants are the only animals that can’t jump. Is it true? In cartoons, we often see elephants “jumping” in fear when startled by a mouse. Let’s learn the facts on whether such scenes are truth or fiction.

Can Elephants Jump?

No, elephants cannot jump. Elephants have never been observed jumping, and their anatomy makes the ability to jump unlikely. Elephants can cover a lot of ground in a day, level buildings, and push trees over. They do not need to jump.

Why Can’t Elephants Jump?

There are no scientific studies to date that examine the exact reasons why elephants can’t jump. According to John Hutchinson, professor of evolutionary biomechanics at London’s Royal Veterinary College, the reasons can be assumed to fall into the following categories:

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  • Weight
  • Weak leg muscles
  • Inflexible ankles.
  • Lack of Need

Let’s examine each of these in more detail.

Weight

Elephants are big. Asian elephants weigh 8,800 lbs and African elephants up to 13,000 lbs.

Some doctors estimate that when you take a step, your knees absorb the force of 3 lbs of pressure for every 1 lb you weigh. If the same holds true for elephants, that means that a large African elephant could put 39,000 lbs of pressure on his knee joint if he were to jump!

In addition to the damage that jumping would cause to the joints, it takes a lot of strength to set 10,000 or more pounds of body weight into motion. While elephants are immensely strong, their muscles are designed to propel themselves forward not up.

Next, we’ll see if elephants’ leg muscles have what it takes.

Can elephants jump African elephant
A big beautiful African elephant in the Kruger National Park, South Africa.

©Anna Om/Shutterstock.com

Weak Leg Muscles

When you jump, you employ many muscle groups – the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calf muscles.

What about elephants? Do their muscles have what it takes? In an interview with Live Science, Hutchinson, quoted earlier, said, “Animals that jump need really flexible ankles and really strong Achilles tendons and calf muscles, and elephants have really wimpy lower-leg muscles and not very flexible ankles.”

Since elephants don’t use their muscles for jumping, those muscles don’t develop the strength to be used in that way. But elephants are strong – they can push down trees and walk up to 50 miles in a day. They can run at speeds of 25 mph for short distances. That’s faster than most human athletes!

You’ll remember that the ankles were also mentioned. We’ll check them out next.

Inflexible Ankles

When you jump, your body bends at the hip, knee, and ankle. When you land, the flexion of these joints helps absorb the impact.

But elephant bodies aren’t built that way. Sure, they bend at the hip or shoulder and the knee to allow the animal to move around. But the ankles are designed for supporting the elephant’s weight. Compared to many mammals, the ankles don’t bend very much.

Additionally, the Smithsonian Magazine reported, “If you were to look at an elephant’s skeleton, you’ll see that they’re standing on their tippy-toes… all the bones are pointed straight down.” This design supports the animal’s weight while standing or walking, but cannot provide the “upwards spring from the feet” required for jumping.

Lack of Need

Another reason elephants don’t jump is that they don’t really need to jump. A primary reason that smaller animals jump is to escape danger. They employ flexibility and speed, such as jumping, to get away from predators. But elephants’ huge size, as well as their tusks and trunks, keep them safe from hungry carnivores.

Can elephants jump Indian elephant
An Asian elephant in the beautiful forest at Kanchanaburi province in Thailand.

©iStock.com/goodze

What Would Happen If an Elephant DID Jump?

If an elephant were to jump, the pressure on the knees and ankles could cause injuries. Elephants live a long time, often 50 to 70 years. Stress injuries from jumping would increase arthritis pain and affect mobility. This could shorten the elephant’s life by making it more difficult to migrate to find adequate food and water. If the animal tripped and fell to the ground while jumping, the injuries could be crippling.

Rather than risking injuries that could cut their lives short, elephants employ walking and sometimes running to get around.

Up Next…

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/LuCaAr


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About the Author

Krishna is a lifelong animal owner and advocate. She owns and operates a small farm in upstate New York which she shares with three dogs, four donkeys, one mule, and a cat. She holds a Bachelors in Agricultural Technology and has extensive experience in animal health and welfare. When not working with her own animals and tending her farm, Krishna is helping other animal owners with behavior or management issues and teaching neighboring farmers about Regenerative Agriculture practices.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are elephants the only animals that can't jump?

No, elephants are not the only animals that cannot jump. Similar large land mammals like hippos and rhinos cannot jump for similar reasons. Interestingly, though, rhinoceroses and hippopotamuses can achieve moments with all four feet off the ground when they run. That is another athletic feat that elephants can’t master. Elephants always have at least one foot on the ground.

The sloth is another mammal that cannot jump. Its muscles and metabolism are designed for slow, deliberate movements.

Can elephants jump a fence?

No, elephants cannot jump over a fence. But they are able to push most fences over unless they are electrified. This has led to some close encounters between humans and wild elephants.

Do elephants jump when startled?

Elephants may be startled by sudden movements, but they do not jump when startled as humans and other animals sometimes do. However, they do react to danger – though there is little to endanger a fully grown elephant. Elephants may charge or run towards a perceived threat to intimidate it or scare it away. A herd of elephants will gather their young to the center of the group, using the adults’ bodies as a shield. If provoked, elephants may stomp on an assailant or attack them with their tusks and trunk.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.