There are two living genera of elephants. These are African Loxodonta africanus, and Asian elephants Elephas maximus.
An elephant's most obvious part is the trunk. The trunk is a very long nose, made from the upper lip. An elephant uses its trunk to grab objects such as food. Though the rest of an elephant's hide is strong and thick, its trunk is very soft and sensitive. Elephants avoid Acacia trees with symbiotic ants because they can bite the inside of an elephant's trunk.
Elephants also have tusks. Tusks are large teeth coming out of their upper jaws.
A lot of ivory comes from elephant tusks. Ivory
traders killed many elephants, so now hunting them is illegal. The trunk is also used when it trumpets. The elephant usually stands still, raises its trunk, and blows. This is a signal to other elephants and wildlife.
African elephants are larger and have bigger ears. They are grazers who still do quite a lot of browsing: they eat leaves, branches and grass. These big ears have many veins, which carry blood throughout the body. Biologists think that the blood going through their ears helps African elephants to cool off. The weather is hotter in Africa than in Asia, so it is hard for elephants to stay cool. Female African elephants have tusks, but female Asian elephants do not. African elephants have a low place in their back. African elephants have two "fingers" at the end of their trunks, but Asian elephants only have one. Indian elephants eat mainly grass.
Grass wears down their teeth because it has a high concentration of silica and is very abrasive. Elephants use their teeth in sequence, not all at once. This means that, at any time, they only have one tooth in each jaw, a total of four.
In total, they have 24 teeth: 12 front teeth, called premolars, and 12 back teeth, called molars. When the last molar wears out, the elephant dies because it cannot eat. They can live for about 70 years. But in a zoo or circus, people can keep elephants alive by feeding them soft food.
Some African elephants live on the savanna while others live in the forest. Today, many people think these are different species. Scientists named the forest group Loxodonta cyclotis and the savanna group Loxodonta africanus.