Shoulder height 2.3–3.4m. Weight up to 6,000kg.
The world's largest land animal, the African elephant is intelligent, social and often very entertaining to watch. Female elephants live in closely-knit clans in which the eldest female plays matriarch over her sisters, daughters and granddaughters. Their life spans are comparable with those of humans, and mother-daughter bonds are strong and may last for up to 50 years. Males generally leave the family group at around 12 years to roam singly or form bachelor herds. Under normal circumstances, elephants range widely in search of food and water, but when concentrated populations are forced to live in conservation areas their habit of uprooting trees can cause serious environmental damage.
Elephants are widespread and common in habitats ranging from desert to rainforest. In Zambia they were common everywhere except for the Upper Zambezi's floodplains, but have now become more restricted by human expansion. However, individuals often wander widely, turning up in locations from which they have been absent for years.
Zambia's strongest population is in the Luangwa, where there are now about 15,000. As recently as 1973 estimates put the Luangwa's population at more than 100,000, but the late 1970s and '80s saw huge commercial poaching for ivory, which wiped out a large proportion of this. Outside of a small, protected area in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia's elephants fared even worse. The populations in Kafue and even North Luangwa are still small, and the individuals are very nervous and skittish near people. (The exception here is possibly the Lower Zambezi, where the elephants regularly swim between Zimbabwe and Zambia, because the Zimbabwean parks were, on the whole, better protected from poaching than the Zambian parks. Hence the Lower Zambezi's elephant population is also fairly relaxed and numerous.)