Savanna elephant, or otherwise known as African bush elephant, is the largest elephant in Africa. Considerably large ears help the animal radiate excess heat. The hind limbs are shorter than the fore-limbs. The animal possesses a tusk, which aids in marking, feeding, digging and fighting. The Savanna elephant impresses with its massive size: the largest individual of this species was 4 meters at the shoulder and as heavy as 10 tonnes.
Savanna elephant primarily occurs in grassy plains and bushlands of 37 countries in eastern and southern Africa.
Savanna elephants live in a rather complex social hierarchy. These animals gather into family units, consisting of about 10 females and their offspring. Reaching maturity, male calves usually leave the family unit, forming bachelor herds or living solitarily. As a general rule, males socialize with these family groups only when mating. Meanwhile, several family herds may gather together, making up a 'clan'. Each clan is dominated by a female matriarch, and can consist of as many as several hundred elephants. African bush elephants are very careful and protective animals. Allomothering is a common practice in this species: females can raise calves of other females of their herd. They protect and care for calves of the herd, while all adults are sleeping. If a calf strays too far, these allomothers are responsible for retrieving the baby. These active animals are constantly on the move. These elephants forage during the daytime hours, wandering the home range of their herd. Savanna elephants freely communicate with conspecifics both verbally and non-verbally.
Savanna elephants have a polygynous mating system, where males are constantly in search of breeding females. They breed throughout the year with peak periods, occurring during the rainy seasons. When mating, males usually stay less than a few weeks with each female and her herd. Gestation period lasts as long as 2 years, yielding a single baby (rarely - twins), which is nursed for about 2 years. The calf then continues to live under protection of the entire herd until 6 years old, when the young elephant is able to live independently. Males of this species are sexually mature after 20 years old, whereas females are mature after 10 - 11 years, being most reproductive at 25 - 45 years old.
This elephant is currently threatened by poaching for its ivory fetches, which are highly valued in black markets in Asian countries as well as the United States. In addition, war and over-exploitation of natural resources usually cause increased poaching for their meat. African bush elephants frequently come into conflict with people as a result of growing human population: thus, about 70% of their range lie outside the protected areas, due to which they often damage agriculture and water supplies, leading to injuries and even mortality in both people and elephants. On the other hand, growing human population combined with land conversion is one of the biggest threats to the population of this species, causing fragmentation of their natural habitat.
According to the Wikipedia resource, the total number of the African bush elephants today is more than 15,000 individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List, and its numbers are increasing.
African bush elephants play a significant role in the local ecosystem. Due to reducing tree density within their range, these animals maintain the ecosystem of savanna and open woodland, helping many plants and animals survive. Due to digging, they make holes in dry riverbeds; they usually dig or enlarge caves when looking for salt, thus creating shelter for various animals.