When it comes to land animals, the elephant is the largest alive today. These creatures represent the last family from the order Proboscidea (with Mastodons part of order before they went extinct). The family Elephantidae once included Mammoths and straight-tusked elephants, but there are only three species remaining today.
African bush elephants, African forest elephants, and Asian elephants live in various habitats in Africa and Asia. All elephants are endangered, with African forest elephants listed as critically endangered.
The largest specimens can be up to 11 feet tall at the shoulder and weigh 5 tons. They are herbivores that can eat 330 pounds of vegetation daily.
What Is the Average Lifespan of an Elephant?
While scientists have studied all three species in their natural habitat, the numbers given represent an estimate. In recent years, biologists have discussed the possibility that the following numbers might be too high.
So, how long do elephants live? When it comes to longevity in the wild, the African species have a longer estimated lifespan than the Asian species. Both the African bush elephant and the African forest elephant are estimated to live between 60 and 70-years in the wild.
The number of Asian elephants is better understood, reflected by the more precise age of 48-years in its natural habitat. A better understanding of the Asian elephant’s shorter life expectancy involves its environment and interactions with human beings.
How Long do Elephants Live in Captivity?
Unfortunately, all species of elephants live shorter lives in captivity then they do in their natural surroundings. Much shorter.
Studies have examined the lifespans of female elephants in captivity in Europe compared to African and Asian sanctuaries.
Female African elephants have a life expectancy of only 17-years. The Asian elephants in captivity fared only a little better at 19-years on average.
These numbers indicate an average lifespan in captivity that is half that in the wild. While most species fare better in captivity due to a lack of predators and diseases, elephants do not.
The Elephant Lifecycle
Elephants have the longest known period of gestation of any mammal. That period ranges from between 18 and 22-months for Asian elephants and 22-months for the African species.
Why do elephants have such long pregnancies? Scientists believe this allows them to develop their brains more.
An elephant is born with the ability to interpret advanced social structures within the herd. It can also use its trunk to feed itself. Both are crucial to survival in the wild.
A baby elephant, or calf, will gain nutrition from its mother’s milk for two years or more. They will continue to drink milk until the mother no longer tolerates it. That can last up to 10 years.
An elephant reaches six to eight months of age it starts to use its trunk. It is during this time that they learn to eat, drink, and explore with their trunk. Within 12-months, elephants have control and understanding of what to do with their appendages, just like adults.
Elephants will continue to grow and mature within the herd for over a decade. African elephants become sexually mature between 10 and 12-years of age, while Asian elephants reach this stage at about 14-years.
Males and females will live with the female herd until they reach around 18-years of age. It is then that the males break away and live in the bachelor herd, while the females stay in the natal group they were born.
Even though elephants become sexually mature as adolescents, they will not begin to mate until they are adults. Male pods and natal herds of females and young elephants will continue to exist for the remainder of the elephant’s life.
The major considerations for adult elephants outside of mating are food and water. Adults eat 300-pounds, or more, vegetation each day. They can also drink 40-gallons of water a day if they are thirsty.
Causes of Death
In the wild, healthy adults have no predators. Old, sick, young, and solitary elephants can be preyed upon, though.
The biggest threat comes from human beings. Humans poach elephants for ivory, trophy hunting, and medicine. Another human influence on elephant health is our ability to alter or destroy an elephant’s natural habitat.
Outside of predation and humans, elephants can suffer from diseases. Anthrax is one of the more prevalent diseases, along with things like tuberculosis.
In captivity, shorter lifespans are a result of obesity and stress.
Longest Living Elephants
The current record holder is the Asian elephant Lin Wang, who was 85-years old before dying in 2003.
In North America, the oldest African elephant was Tyranza, who died in 2020 at 56.
These are verifiable ages, but there may be other elephants that were (or are) older.