How to Tell the Difference Between African and Asian Elephants

You may have heard of the African and Asian elephants, but do you know what distinguishes one from the other, and how they are the same?  There are two species of elephants, who in total are divided into six sub-species. These two species are the African and Asian elephants.  Read on to find out how you can identify each species and what makes each unique!

Full Grown African Elephant
African Elephant


African elephants live in both rain forest climates and savannah climates, and are divided into subspecies depending on which they live in. Savannah elephants live across 37 countries in Africa. Asian elephants live across much of Southeast Asia, India, Sri Lanka, and China. Unfortunately, both are threatened by habitat loss, as the climate continues to get warmer and their forests and homes are destroyed or built up.



Both elephants’ diet consists heavily of grasses and leaves. They also can eat roots or bark or, depending where they live, bamboo. Further, elephants have been known to eat from crops of sugarcane or bananas. All elephants need to eat a lot, and adult elephants eat up to 400 pounds of food every day. African elephants are browsers, though, meaning they select the most nutritious food in their area to eat, while Asian elephants are grazers, eating more food which is of lower nutritional value.


Adult Asian Elephant Eating
Asian elephant with domed head and smaller ears.

African elephants have larger ears than Asian elephants, due to them living in hotter areas. Heat can be emitted through the skin of the ears allowing the African elephants to stay cooler.  This is very similar to other animals we have talked about like the jackrabbit.  African elephants also have skin which is more wrinkled than that of an Asian elephant. The shape of an elephant’s head can also be a clue as to their species.  Asian elephants have a domed head, whereas African elephants do not.  Check out the photo on the right of the Asian elephant.


Large Tusks of Adult Elephant

With African elephants, both male and female elephants grow tusks, but with Asian elephants only the males do and not all of them. Did you know that tusks are actually large incisor teeth?  These very long teeth are used in foraging for food and in play, but also as a defense. The tusks continuously grow throughout an elephant’s life, and so individuals in captivity who are not able to engage in the types of activities which in the wild naturally wear away at their tusks, must have someone trim their tusks routinely to prevent them from growing too large. Also, it is thought that most elephants prefer one tusk for performing activities than the other, just as humans use one hand over the other. Unfortunately, poachers are still targeting elephants for their tusks.

Adult and Baby African ElephantsElephants live in tightly-knit matriarchal groups called herds, the leader of which is always female and called the matriarch. The herds can range in size between 10 individuals to 100. Elephant herds are made up of related female elephants, and their male offspring until they reach between 12 and 15 years of age. At that point, the males leave the herd to either form a small group of other males or to live on their own.


It has recently been discovered that elephants communicate with one another or with other groups by using a sub-sonic rumble (sub-sonic means it is produced travelling at a slower speed than sound travels through the air). Other elephants receive the information through the ground via the sensitive skin on the bottoms of their feet.

I hope you found these facts about elephants interesting. Did you already know some of them or were they all new to you? Leave a comment below if you have any questions or requests. Thank you for reading and, until next time, goodbye!

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4 thoughts on “How to Tell the Difference Between African and Asian Elephants”

  1. Hello,
    Great read! As usual when reading your blog, I’ve learned so much.
    Do you know why the African elephant has more wrinkled skin than the Asian? Also, why does the Asian elephant have a domed head?
    Based on how herds are structured, it sounds to me like a Colonel Hathi-led group of elephants (from Disney’s Jungle Book) wouldn’t really exist in the wild. True?

    1. True, elephant groups would really be led by the females in the wild.

      African elephants live in hotter climates than Asian elephants and their wrinkled skin keeps them cooler because it retains water and mud after baths for longer. As for why Asian elephants have a domed head, I can find no reason for its evolution.

      Thank you for your questions an for reading! 🙂

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