Elephants are large land mammals in two genera of the family Elephantidae: Elephas and Loxodonta. Three species of elephant are living today: the African Bush Elephant, the African Forest Elephant and the Asian Elephant (also known as the Indian Elephant). All other species and genera of Elephantidae are extinct, some since the last ice age: dwarf forms of mammoths may have survived as late as 2,000 BC. Elephants and other Elephantidae were once classified with other thick-skinned animals in a now invalid order, Pachydermata.
Elephants are the largest land animals now living. The elephant’s gestation period is 22 months, the longest of any land animal. At birth it is common for an elephant calf to weigh 120 kilograms (260 lb). They typically live for 50 to 70 years, but the oldest recorded elephant lived for 82 years. The largest elephant ever recorded was shot in Angola in 1956. This male weighed about 12,000 kilograms (26,000 lb), with a shoulder height of 4.2 metres (14 ft), a metre (yard) taller than the average male African elephant. The smallest elephants, about the size of a calf or a large pig, were a prehistoric species that lived on the island of Crete during the Pleistocene epoch.
The elephant has appeared in cultures across the world. They are a symbol of wisdom in Asian cultures and are famed for their memory and intelligence, where they are thought to be on par with cetaceans and hominids. Aristotle once said the elephant was “the beast which passeth all others in wit and mind”. The word “elephant” has its origins in the Greek, meaning “ivory” or “elephant”.
Healthy adult elephants have no natural predators, although lions may take calves or weak individuals. They are, however, increasingly threatened by human intrusion and poaching. Once numbering in the millions, the African elephant population has dwindled to between 470,000 and 690,000 individuals according to a March 2007 estimate. While the elephant is a protected species worldwide, with restrictions in place on capture, domestic use, and trade in products such as ivory, CITES reopening of “one time” ivory stock sales, has resulted in increased poaching. Certain African nations report a decrease of their elephant populations by as much as two-thirds, and populations in certain protected areas are in danger of being eliminated Since recent poaching has increased by as much as 45%, the current population is unknown (2008).