Apart from their large size, large ears, and their extraordinary trunk, the tusks of elephants are fascinating.

The tusks are actually elongated incisors, about a quarter of which is housed within the elephant’s skull, which can bear the weight of them. If you observe elephants carefully, you will quickly notice that no pair of tusks look the same. See these asymmetrical tusks covered with a thick layer of mud from the waterhole:

Compare them with these oddly curved ones:

Much of an elephant’s tusk is made up of dentine and the whole tusk is wrapped in enamel.

Despite the size of the tusks, elephants are herbivorous, eating eat roots, grass, leaves, fruit and bark.

While not all elephants have tusks (many bulls and cows in the Addo Elephant National Park do not) they are usefully employed for gathering food, lifting objects, stripping bark from trees, and to break off twigs for eating.

Tusks grow throughout an elephant’s life although they may wear down or even break due to extensive use or major clashes. This elephant has only one tusk:

Elephants tend to be left- or right-tusked, with the dominant one more worn down from frequent use.

I have featured this photograph before, yet I feel sure you won’t mind seeing again how an elephant might rest its trunk upon its tusks.


The animals shown below were all photographed in the Addo Elephant National Park.

Cape buffalo

Their large drooping fringed ears hang down below the horns. They sometimes look torn, ragged, or scarred from fighting.


The size of the ears of elephants helps to cool them down. They can act as a fan to move air over the body and also cool the blood as it circulates through the veins in the ears. Through careful observation one can learn to identify individual elephants by the nicks, notches, holes and missing bits caused by their travels through the bush.


Kudu have an acute sense of hearing, thanks to their large round ears that alert them to danger.

Red hartebeest

White hair covers the inside of the long pointed ears of red hartebeest.


The ears of the warthogs are prominently placed above their heads. They are leaf-shaped, with erect, slightly rounded tips.


Zebras have large, rounded ears with lots of hair that helps to keep the dust out of them. It is interesting to note that the position of their ears can signal whether or not they are feeling calm or are alert to imminent danger in their vicinity.


There must be few visitors who remain unmoved at the sight of an elephant in the wild.

This one has already spent time in the relatively shallow waterhole – see the dark areas on its front legs are higher than those on the back. The darker shade of the trunk shows that it too is still damp from having been in the water. Notice how flat its feet are. This is because there is a large pad of gristle under each heel. Given their size, it is incredible how quietly and elephant can walk – there is hardly a sound in their wake.

African elephants (Loxodonta africana) have four toes on their front feet and three toes on their hind feet. Think of the enormous weight these feet must support. That subcutaneous cushion plays an important role in distributing forces during weight bearing as well as acting as a shock absorber. The photograph above illustrates the angled foot structure which causes elephants to actually walk on their tiptoes while their body weight is evenly distributed across the fatty/connective tissue at the heel.

One of the most interesting aspects of elephants is their trunk, which is really an extension of its upper lip and nose.

An elephant’s trunk has multiple uses such as the obvious ones of breathing, drinking, and grasping their food. If you observe elephants for a while, you will notice they also use their trunks to dust themselves, splash mud over themselves, to smell – it fulfills an important sensory function – as well as producing sound. With all these functions and more, there comes a time when the trunk needs to rest.