Mammoth vs. Elephant: What’s the Difference?

Written by Krishna Maxwell
Updated: October 9, 2023
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Elephants and mammoths are closely related animals, belonging to the same order: Elephantidae, which is part of a larger group called the Proboscidea . Of the three families in this order, Asian Elephants, African Elephants, and Mammoths, only the elephant family is still alive today. So, what are the differences that separate elephants vs. mammoths?

Both animals are close cousins. While most people believe that elephants descended from mammoths, they were in fact cousins rather than descendants. Elephants and mammoths are both gentle herbivores with a long history of human interaction. Though males elephants sometimes fight to determine dominance, breeding rights, and territory they are generally peaceful creatures. It is likely that mammoths used their tusks in a similar fashion and that their behavior was similar. In this article, we’ll discuss all of the differences between elephants and mammoths, including why elephants have survived while mammoths went extinct.

Comparing Elephant vs Mammoth

Mastodon vs Mammoth

Wooly mammoths went extinct around 4,000 years ago.

©Dotted Yeti/

Elephants and mammoths are very similar creatures, and they even descended from the same ancestor long ago! However, they do have distinct differences—mainly due to the ways mammoths adapted to cooler environments. Before we dive in, let’s talk about the species of elephant alive today.

African Elephant: African elephants have large ears that help them dispel heat, two extensions from their trunks used for gripping, and dipped backs. There are two species of African elephants, the African bush elephant which is larger and lives on savannas and the African forest elephant which is smaller and lives in dense forest environments.

Asian Elephant: It’s still debated which elephant species is most closely related to mammoths, but many believe it may be the Asian elephant. These elephants have small ears, rounded backs, and just one extension from the trunk. Female Asian elephants do not have tusks. Asian elephants are an endangered species.

There were many mammoth species including the Wooly Mammoth, Pygmy Mammoth, and Steppe Mammoth. All of these species are now extinct.

Elephant Mammoth 
Status EndangeredExtinct
Habitat Africa, AsiaNorth America, Asia, Europe
Body Rounded or dipped backHumped back
TusksShorter tusks with 1-2 extensions; only male Asian elephants have tusksLong tusks with two extensions; both sexes had tusks
EarsAsian elephant ears are smaller, while African elephant ears are largerSmall ears
FurLittle furThick fur, sometimes with double coat

The 5 key Differences Between Mammoths and Elephants

Mastodon Vs Wooly Mammoth

The wooly mammoth was one of the last mammoths to emerge. A key difference between mammoths vs. elephants was their thick coat


1. Mammoths are Extinct

The major difference between these species is that only one is living. Mammoths went extinct around 4,000 years ago in large part thanks to a rapidly changing climate and hunting from humans spreading across the globe. Mammoths were adapted to an ice-age climate and they died out as their habitat dwindled as the world warmed.

Elephants, and many other species, are at a similar risk of extinction today from the same problems: a warming climate and too much pressure from humans. This pressure comes from hunting and from loss of habitat that elephants can survive in.

Elephants are still alive today, although all species of elephants are threatened. Asian elephants are on the endangered species list while African bush elephants are endangered and African forest elephants are now critically endangered.

It’s so important to keep the elephants left today alive, or this entire order of animals will be gone from our Earth for good.

2. Mammoths had Bigger Tusks

Mammoths were heavier than elephants, with much longer tusks. Their tusks were more curved and twisted than elephant tusks and could grow up to 16 feet long. In comparison, the longest-ever elephant tusks were 11 feet and 7 inches in length.

Another important variation exists only in Asian elephants: the females do not have tusks at all. Both sexes of mammoths had tusks as do African elephants. These are mainly used for defense, though males also use them in dominance fights.

When it comes to their trunks, both African elephants and mammoths have (or had) two extensions from the tips of their trunk that are (or were) used for gripping. Asian elephants have only one. These prehensile extensions are very sensitive and capable of fine motor skills. Elephants use these extensions the way humans use their hands.

3. Mammoths had Thick Coats

If you’ve ever seen an elephant, you know that they have very thin layers of short, coarse hair—it may even look like they don’t have fur at all. You couldn’t say this about a mammoth. They had thick fur to adapt to cold environments. Some of them even had double coats to keep them warm through harsh winters. These thick, heavy coats allowed mammoths to live in very cold areas and thrive where their cousins would have frozen. However, those same thick coats meant that they could not handle the hotter temperatures as their climate warmed.

Are elephants mammals - baby elephant with mother


African Forest Elephant

mother with her calf. Forest elephants live in dense, forest habitats


4.     Their Habitats were Different

Mammoths and elephants are the descendants of the same animal. Sometime in history, however, mammoths evolved to travel outside of the warm climates of Africa, Asia, and Europe. While elephants remained in these environments, mammoths travelled as far as North America!

Over time, mammoths adapted to colder climates so they were able to spread out over a much wider area than elephants ever managed. Mammoths were also larger than elephants which would have forced them to travel over a larger range to find enough food. It would take a lot of food to keep a mammoth happy!

Elephant vs. Mammoth

A comparison of a mammoth and Asian elephant


5.     They have Different Body Shapes

Mammoths had humps on their back near their shoulders, but elephants do not have this. Asian elephants have more rounded backs, while African elephants’ backs slope downward toward the middle.

Mammoths and Asian elephants also have more distinctive foreheads. They both have/had a distinctly domed forehead while African elephant foreheads slope straight downward into the trunk. There is a much less visible dividing structure between the head and trunk of the African elephant. Mammoths had larger foreheads than either elephant species, and it was more pronouncedly dome-shaped.

Lastly, African Elephants have longer ears than either the Asian elephant or mammoth. These large ears help dissipate so that the animal stays cooler in hot weather. They also use their large, flexible ears to keep files off their face. Asian elephants have smaller, more rounded ears. Mammoths had the smallest ears of all because larger ears are at risk of frostbite in freezing weather and use too much body heat to keep warm.


Elephants and Mammoths both descended from a common ancestor. They diverged into different species as they tried to adapt to a changing environment. Some of those changes worked better than others.

1.Went extinct = failed adaptationsStill alive = successful adaptation
2.Bigger, more curled tusksShorter, thicker tusks
3.Thicker coat for cold weatherAlmost no coat for hot climates
4.Cold steppe habitatHot plains or jungle
5.Larger and heavier for better cold toleranceSmaller and able to dispel heat

What Animals Are in Danger of Extinction?

Bull elephant, loxodonta africana, in the grasslands of Amboseli National Park, Kenya. Front view.

Earth’s largest land mammal, the


, is in danger of extinction.

©Jane Rix/

As we’ve discovered, there were some distinctive differences between today’s elephants and the extinct woolly mammoth. Unfortunately, there are a lot of animals under threat of extinction today. Overall, the IUCN has listed 5,766 different animal species as endangered. The criteria for a species to be added to the endangered list are as follows:

  • Population reduction–A taxon’s population is reduced by 50-70% due to certain factors defined by the IUCN
  • Geographic Reduction–The specie’s extant area is reduced to between 5,000 and 500 square kilometers
  • Dangerously low number of adults–A taxon’s population only has 2,500 or fewer adults left
  • Expected rapid decline

Below is a list of three of the largest animal species today that are facing extinction:

1. African Savannah (Bush) Elephant/African Forest Elephant/Asian Elephant 

Elephants, the largest land mammals on Earth, are unfortunately facing the same threat of extinction that the woolly mammoth succumbed to in ages past. African forest elephant numbers have declined by over 86% in the past 31 years, while African savanna elephants have decreased by 60% over the last 50 years. Both cases have resulted from poaching and habitat loss. Meanwhile, Asian elephants are endangered due to habitat loss, fragmentation, and poaching. There are only an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 left in the wild. Currently, both African savannah and Asian elephants are listed as endangered, while African forest elephants are critically endangered. 

2. Bengal Tiger/Siberian Tiger/Sumatran Tiger/Indochinese Tiger/Malayan Tiger/South China Tiger

Tigers are the largest cat species on the planet, but all 6 extant species are either endangered or critically endangered. Three species have gone extinct in the last 100 years: the Javan tiger (1970s), Bali tiger (1930’s), and Caspian tiger (2003). Tigers have faced the largest threat due to habitat loss and poaching (for their exotic coats, and in some places, consumption and use of other body parts for rituals, jewelry, and more). 

3. Blue Whale

Blue whales are the largest animals on the earth, inhabiting the planet’s oceans. They were hunted in the past for their meat and blubber, to the point that their numbers dropped from an estimated 200,000 in the 1800s to 20,000 today. They are listed as endangered by the IUCN. Currently, their greatest threat is global warming. 

The photo featured at the top of this post is ©

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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) 

Why did Mammoths go Extinct?

Mammoths went extinct around 4,000 years ago. Their numbers dwindled due to human hunters, but they ultimately went extinct due climate change. The earth heated so quickly and drastically that mammoths weren’t able to adapt to the loss of habitat and food sources.

Of course, elephants did not have to adapt to changing arctic conditions during this time, as they remained in their homelands on the African and Asian continents.

Where can I see Elephants?

The best (and easiest!) place to see elephants today is in a local zoo with a focus on conservation of the species.

Never fund the use of elephants for human entertainment, as often elephants in these situations are abused.

For instance, sometimes elephant rides are advertised. Elephants aren’t like horses, however—they aren’t built for carrying a human, and it hurts them to do so. They often suffer from spinal injuries, blisters, and infections.

Although performances involving animals are dying out, it’s important never to go to a show where any animal is performing “tricks” to entertain a crowd. These animals get nothing out of these performances, and are often abused behind the scenes.


How Can we Stop Elephant Extinction?

To stop elephants from becoming extinct we must support conservation efforts, take a stand against poaching, and fight climate change.

Habitat loss and poaching are the biggest threats to elephants currently.

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