The Differences Between Asian and African Elephants

The majestic elephant is the world’s largest living land animal and is recognised all over the world for its unique beauty and immense strength. Many people who embark on African wildlife safaris are unaware of the differences between the Asian and African species, but once they are recognised, it is relatively easy to tell the two apart.


The average body length of an Asian elephant is 5.8 metres, and they usually weigh around 5.5 tonnes. They have convex, level backs and bulges on their foreheads. The African species has distinct differences, being considerably heavier (an adult can weigh around 6.5 tonnes), and with an average length of around 7m. They have much flatter foreheads than their counterparts, which could be due to their slightly smaller brains.


One of the most noticeable features of an elephant is its ears, and it’s a simple task deciphering which belong to the African species, as they cover the entire neck of the animal. This helps to keep it cool in the harsh weather conditions. In contrast, the ears of the Asian mammals are significantly smaller and rounder, as they have easier access to shade from the surrounding trees of their habitat.

Trunk and Tusks

Looking closely at the trunk, a very slight difference is noticeable; the Asian species has just one hook or ‘finger’ at the top of its trunk, whereas those from Africa have one on each side. These are used to aid grip, and since the African species tend to lift heavier objects they therefore require the stronger trunk. It is often a lot longer, too, sometimes dragging across the floor as they walk.

The tusks of each species are relatively similar in appearance, besides the African mammal’s often being slightly thicker. However Asian females usually lack tusks entirely.


The Asian mammals have rather wrinkled skin, which is dark grey or brown in colour, whereas the skin of their counterparts, although a similar colour, is often much smoother. Wrinkled skin has been shown to help keep the animal cooler for longer as it retains moisture.


With easy access to food and water due to the dense green forests that make up their habitat, Asian elephants have adapted to become slightly smaller and weaker than their African relatives. They are also marginally more intelligent as they tend to have more contact with humans. On the other hand, the African species often must walk for miles to access food and water, which has caused them to adapt stronger, more powerful bodies.

Encounter the Largest Living Land Animal on an African Wildlife Safari

For those keen to encounter these magnificent animals in the wild, an African wildlife safari is certainly the best option. A specialist, eco-friendly nature travel company will help make the most of the experience, with local guides, experienced naturalists and small, intimate groups.

Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in African wildlife. As a passionate lover of wildlife, Marissa chooses the expert-led African wildlife safari itineraries organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of species in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.

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