Elephants are huge herbivores and are the largest land mammals in the world. Easily distinguished by their grey skin, long trunk, and large ears, elephants are one of the most intelligent animals around. From expressing grief and mourning for weeks to playing a pivotal role in maintaining the shape of the landscape, elephants are incredibly fascinating animals. Not only that but they can live for a pretty long time too, with a lifespan of around 70 years. Here we’ll discover exactly how old the world’s oldest elephant is and see how elephants compare against other mammals.
How Many Species of Elephants Are There?
Where the elephants are found is dependent on which species they are, with African and Asian elephants never coming into contact with each other. African bush elephants live in the forests, grasslands, and wetlands of Central and Southern Africa, while African forest elephants prefer the rainforests of Central and Western Africa. Meanwhile, Asian elephants generally live in the grasslands and deciduous forests of Asia. The Indian subspecies is found in mainland Asia, Sri Lankan elephants are native to Sri Lanka, and Sumatran are native to Sumatra.
Differences Between Elephant Species
There are only slight differences between the African forest elephant and the African bush elephant, with the most noticeable difference being their tusks. The tusks on African forest elephants are straighter and point downwards while on African bush elephants they curve outwards. Also, African bush elephants are generally bigger than African forest elephants.
However, there are significant differences between African elephants in general and Asian elephants. One of the most distinguishable differences between the two is the “fingers” on the trunk. African elephants have two “fingers” while Asian elephants only have a single one. There are also noticeable differences between their ears: Asian elephants have much smaller ears than African elephants. Elephants use their ears to dissipate body heat as they have a lot of blood vessels close to the surface of the skin to help them cool off. As African elephants live in a much hotter climate than Asian elephants they need bigger ears to help them cool down. Amazingly, their ears are actually shaped like the continent of Africa.
Also, African elephants are much taller and heavier than Asian elephants. The tallest point on an African elephant is the shoulder, while the tallest point on an Asian elephant is the top of the head. Asian elephants have different shaped head to African elephants, with a “double domed” head rather than a broad, flat one. African bush elephants are the largest species and weigh around 13,000 pounds and reach 13 feet at the shoulder. Asian elephants are smaller and male only weigh 8,800 pounds and reach around 9 feet. There is also differences between the tusks as only male Asian elephants have tusks. However, both male and female African elephants can have tusks.
The World’s Oldest Elephant
The oldest elephant in the world was an Asian elephant named Changalloor Dakshayani who reached 89 years old. Chengalloor Dakshayani was a female who was born in 1930 and died on February 5, 2019. From the age of 19 she lived at the Thiruvarattu Kavu temple. From the late 1960s she moved to the Chenkalloor Mahadeva Temple in India, where she was used in temple rituals and parades.
Prior to Chengalloor Dakshayani, the record was held by another Asian elephant – Lin Wang — who was 86 when he died. For many years Lin Wang was used by the Chinese Expeditionary Force along with several other elephants to carry supplies and pull artillery guns. During this time he served in the Second Sino-Japanese War and later in World War II. After the end of the war he remained in service with the army until he was the only elephant remaining from the ones he had originally served with during the war. In 1952, the army gave him to Taipei Zoo where he remained for the rest of his life.
12 of the Oldest Elephants to Ever Live
Here is a list of the oldest elephants ever to live that includes the oldest African Bush elephant, the oldest surviving bull elephant in North America, and more:
- Casey (52 years old): The oldest ever recorded African Bush elephant in captivity. Casey lived in the Kansas City Zoo and lived from 1951 to 2003.
- Sophi (52 years old): One of the oldest African elephants in captivity in North America, housed at the Indianapolis Zoo, passed away in October 2020.
- Dari (55 years old): An African elephant in Salt Lake City’s Hogle Zoo that made it to 55 years old. Dari passed away in 2015.
- Dalip (56 years old): The oldest surviving bull elephant in North America, found at Zoo Miami, before his passing in November 2022.
- Tyranza (56 years old): Was an African elephant in the Memphis Zoo that passed away in 2020. At the time of Tyranza’s death, she was the oldest African elephant in North America.
- Mary (58 years old): Currently living at the San Diego Zoo in California, Mary celebrated her 58th birthday on January 3, 2022.
- Saigon (64 years old): One of Australia’s last circus elephants, Saigon was at the Sydney Zoo in Australia until her passing in February 2022.
- Shirley (72 years old): Captured in Sumatra in 1948, Shirley spent years in the circus before retiring to an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee in 1999. At the time of her passing in 2021, Shirley was 72 years old and the second oldest elephant in North America.
- Ambika (72 years old): An elephant gifted from India to the United States that lived at the National Zoo in Washington DC. Ambika passed away in March 2020.
- Rani (83 years old): Born in 1938, Rani lived at a zoo in Hyderabad India until her passing in June 2021. She was the third oldest elephant to ever live upon her passing.
- Lin Wang (86 years old): An elephant that lived from 1917 to 2003. Lin Wang served in World War II and lived out the remainder of his life at the Taipei Zoo.
- Changalloor Kakshayani (89 years old): The oldest elephant to ever live in captivity with a lifespan ranging from 1930 to 2019.
Do Elephants Live Longer than Other Mammals?
Despite being able to live to an impressive age for an animal, elephants actually aren’t the only mammals with a long lifespan. Humans are one of the longest living land mammals, with the oldest recorded age being 122.
However, the longest living mammal is actually the bowhead whale, which has a lifespan of more than 200 years. Incredibly, this has actually been confirmed as stone harpoon tips have been recovered from several bowhead whales after they’ve died. Scientists have then been able to date the harpoon tips to give an accurate estimation of the age of the whales.
Behavior of Elephants
Most elephants live in herds, and these are led by the oldest and largest female who is the matriarch. The matriarch is respected by all of the herd and is the one that the others look to as a decision maker. Females give birth approximately every four years and gestation lasts 22 months, making it the longest gestation of all mammals. Baby elephants are called calves and are looked after by other females in the herd as well as their mother.
Males and females live separately as young males leave the herd at around 15 years old and join “bachelor herds” with other young males. Once they are fully mature they usually break off and become solitary. Males don’t mate with the females until they are approximately 20 years old as they are then strong enough to compete with other males.
As well as being majestic, elephants are also highly intelligent. They can remember places and people for years and are able to express several emotions, including joy, anger, grief, and compassion. When a herd of elephants comes across the remains of a deceased elephant they will usually touch the body with their trunk. They also cover the body with leaves and branches to bury them. If it’s a member of their own herd that has died then they often remain with them for days or even weeks, standing vigil over them while grieving.
Elephants also like to wallow in mud and use their trunks to spray water over their backs. However, there is an important reason they do this as it helps to remove parasites and insects from their skin. Once the mud has dried on their skin they then rub themselves against a hard surface which then removes the parasites.
Ecosystem and Conservation
Unfortunately, elephants are under serious threat. African bush elephants and Asian elephants are classed as endangered, while African forest elephants are critically endangered. In fact, it is estimated that elephants could even go extinct within 20 years unless something changes.
Their natural predators are lions, hyenas, and crocodiles, although they will usually only prey on young, ill or injured animals. However, the biggest threat to elephants is humans, particularly through poaching. Elephants are hunted for their ivory tusks and even for their meat in some areas. Habitat loss is another serious threat to elephants through things such as logging. Much is being done to try to protect elephants, including maintaining the “elephant corridors.” This are narrow strips of land connecting two larger habitats for the elephants to travel on without coming into contact with humans.
However, elephants actually play an incredibly important part in maintaining the ecosystem and in the conservation of other animals. They help to shape the habitat and in the dry seasons they use their tusks to rip up dry river beds and help to create new watering holes. Also, in the bush they uproot trees which keep the plains open for animals such as zebra, antelope, and wildebeest. In the forests elephants use their size to create paths for smaller animals to get through the undergrowth. This makes them vital to many habitats and to the survival of many other species.
Summary of 12 of the Oldest Elephants Recorded
Here’s a recap of the 12 longest-living elephants known:
|Date of Death
|Alive (Nov. 2022)
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/MOIZ HUSEIN
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