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Differences Between African and Asian Elephants

There are many differences between Asian and African elephants. Both types of elephant are members of the same taxonomical family, elephantidae, but are of a different genus; elephas maximus (Asian elephants, Loxodonta africana (African savanna elephants) and Loxodonta cyclotis (African Forest Elephant).

The African elephant is significantly larger, with bulls growing up to 4m tall. The biggest Asian males reach no more than 3.5m


Adult African elephants weigh between 4,000-7,500kg. Asian males weigh between 3000-6,000kg.

Head Shape

African elephants have fuller, more rounded heads. The top of the head is a single dome whereas Asian elephants have a twin-domed head with an indent in the middle.

The lower lips of the two species also differ, being long and tapered in Asian elephants and short and round in Africans.

Size of the Ears

It is said that you can tell where an elephant comes from by looking at the size of his ears. African ears are like a map of Africa and Asian ears smaller like the shape of India. African ears are much bigger and reach up and over the neck, which does not occur in Asian elephants.


African elephants’ skin is more wrinkled


In general, African elephants have more ribs than the Asian species, though the number of ribs varies in individual animals. African elephants have up to 21 pairs, Asians up to 20.


All African elephants, male and female, have tusks – whereas only some male Asian elephants have tusks. African tusks are generally bigger. About 50% of female Asian elephants and a small percentage of males have small tusk like teeth known as tushes.


The lamella profile along the top of the molar teeth of the two species is different with ridges on Asian elephants’ teeth being more tightly compressed.

The Trunk

The African elephant’s trunk is visibly more heavily ringed and is not as hard as the Asian trunk.

The trunk tip is a major difference between the species. The African trunk has two distinct fingers which it uses to pick up and manipulate objects. The Asian elephant has only one ‘finger’. The Asian compensates for this by holding objects against the underside of the trunk and appears not to suffer from any lack of maneuverability.


Toenails in the two different species of African elephants vary. As they do between the African and Asian elephants.

African forest elephant 5 nails on front feet 4 on the back
African savanna elephant 4 nails on front feet 3 on the back
Asian elephant 5 nails on front feet 4 on the back (rarely 5)


Although both species of elephant eat a wide variety of plant matter, in general, the Asian elephant’s diet is made up of a greater proportion of grass and the African’s of leaves.