How to Tell the Difference Between Male and Female Elephants

How to Tell the Difference Between Male and Female Elephants
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As the largest land animals on the planet, male and female elephants alike have an awe-inspiring and imposing presence. Elephants are ​sexually dimorphic​, which means the difference between males and females is pronounced and noticeable.

Despite this, determining the difference between male and female elephants isn't quite as simple as you might assume. First, you have to determine what elephant species you're looking at! Researchers recognize three different elephant species, and distinguishing between males and females of each species requires familiarity with each type of elephant's unique characteristics.

The Three Elephant Species

Scientists have identified three different species of elephants: the African bush elephant, the African forest elephant and the Asian or Asiatic elephant. Each species has its own special physical characteristics.

The African bush elephant (​Loxodonta africana​), also known as the African savanna elephant, is the largest of the three elephant species. You can find scattered populations of this species across much of central and eastern Africa. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists this species as "endangered" and reports that it is primarily threatened by poaching, habitat loss and direct conflict with humans. These dangers still threaten the species, and populations are currently in decline.

The African forest elephant (​Loxodonta cyclotis​) lives in isolated pockets of central and western Africa. The IUCN lists this species as "critically endangered" and their populations are still declining. Poaching linked to the ivory trade remains the greatest threat to this species, followed by habitat destruction and human conflict.

The Asian or Asiatic elephant (​Elephas maximus​) also faces the impending threat of extinction. The IUCN lists the species as "endangered," and the animals' populations are steadily decreasing. Their greatest threat is human-elephant conflict, but Asian elephants also regularly face habitat destruction and poaching. They live in fragmented populations throughout portions of India and Southeast Asia.

Male and Female African Bush Elephants

The largest of the elephant species, the African bush elephant also displays the greatest degree of sexual dimorphism. Their head shape differs based on sex - females have a blockier forehead than males. However, size is the easiest distinguishing factor. Males can sometimes double female elephants in weight and generally have a wider and curvier build.

Female African elephants can weigh up to 7,700 pounds while males reach weights up to 13,400 pounds. Females stand about 8.5 feet tall at the shoulder, while males reach heights of up to 13 feet. Both males and females grow tusks, but the tusks of males are generally longer. The largest elephant tusks can reach over eleven feet in length!

Male and Female African Forest Elephants

Forest elephants do not grow quite as large as their bush elephant cousins. At their largest, they stand just five feet tall at the shoulder. Like all elephants, the males of this species are larger than females in both height and weight.

The tusks of forest elephants point downward and are straighter and thinner than their bush counterparts. This allows them to move through the forest without their tusks becoming entangled. The male's tusks continue to grow throughout his life and generally reach a larger size than those of the female.

Male and Female Asian Elephants

Like the other elephant species, male and female Asian elephants differ in size. The males outweigh the females significantly and stand taller than them at the shoulder as well. Some males can reach nearly ten feet tall, while females generally stand up to seven feet tall. In this species, female elephants lack visible tusks entirely. However, not all males grow tusks either! The likelihood of an Asian elephant growing visible tusks depends on both the region they're from and which subspecies they belong to.

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