How Fast Are Elephants? Can They Run?

Written by Hailey Pruett
Published: November 7, 2021
Image Credit iStock.com/johan63
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Elephants are enormous animals with powerful legs, but just by looking at them, you wouldn’t expect them to be very fast movers. For starters, they are extremely heavy, weighing in at anywhere from 6,000 to as much as 15,000 pounds, and their bodies don’t seem to be very well suited to running at all. So, how fast are elephants? Are they even able to run with such large legs and wide, flat feet?

Let’s take an in-depth look at these surprisingly agile animals, their top speeds, and how far they are able to walk or run at a time. You definitely won’t want to underestimate an elephant if you’re ever in a race with one!

Can Elephants Run? How Fast Are They?

A herd of elephants on a long trek through the African savanna

iStock.com/TeamDAF

Despite their hefty weight and size, elephants are actually fairly speedy runners. African elephants, for example, are capable of running at speeds of up to 25 mph. Asian elephants, on the other hand, are a bit slower at around 15 mph at most.

Notably, these gentle giants keep at least one foot planted firmly on the ground at all times, even when nearing their top speeds. They need one foot on the ground to stabilize their huge, heavy bodies, which is also why they can’t jump. Additionally, when “running,” an elephant’s footfalls move in the same pattern as they do when they’re walking at much slower speeds.

As a result, there’s been a lot of debate amongst researchers as to whether these powerful pachyderms can technically run at all. Some claim elephants do run, just in “slow motion,” while others aren’t convinced, since they never actually lift all of their feet off the ground and “bounce” like other animals do while running.

Can Elephants Outrun Humans?

elephant-herd-running
An elephant herd on the run

iStock.com/johan63

The top recorded running speed of a human is a whopping 27.3 miles per hour, a record set by Usain Bolt’s jaw-dropping Olympic sprints back in 2011. This speed, however, is highly unusual and even outright unattainable for the average human. Most humans only run at speeds of around 6 to 10 miles per hour at most.

So, with this information in mind, it’s pretty obvious that elephants can definitely outrun most humans. Still, someone like Usain Bolt would be pretty tough competition for them!

How Far Can Elephants Walk?

A baby elephant walks alongside an adult

iStock.com/StuPorts

Elephants’ bodies aren’t really designed for high-speed sprints. Instead, they tend to go for long-distance walks. Since elephants must eat for up to 20 hours per day to sustain their body weight, they have to constantly be on the move to find new branches, leaves, grasses, and fruits to feed on.

Incredibly, both African and Asian elephants are capable of walking 50+ miles in a single day if necessary! Such long walks as these are rare and only occur in cases of droughts or extreme food scarcity, though. 

Exact distance ranges vary slightly depending on environmental conditions, food availability, and many other complex factors. However, during an average day, wild elephants usually walk for around 10 to 15 miles, which is still an amazing feat! 

Captive individuals walk much less at around only 2 to 5 miles per day. This is primarily because they don’t have to move very far to find important resources like food and water. Additionally, they never have to evade predators or compete with other herds while searching for food.

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About the Author

Hailey Pruett is a freelance content writer, editor, and lifelong animal lover living in Tennessee with their spoiled cat, grumpy leopard gecko, and loving partner. Their favorite animals are lizards, turtles, snakes, and frogs. When they aren't obsessively writing about how awesome reptiles and amphibians are, Hailey is usually playing relaxing life simulator video games and obscure, old-school RPGs. They are non-binary and comfortable with any pronouns.

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