Differences between African and Asian Elephant

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How do different types of elephants differ?

The difference between the African and the Asian elephants, looking closer, is remarkable . Actually they resemble each other only from a distance by their outward appearance. Both are big, have a trunk, a tail and partly tusks.

What are the differences between African and Asian elephants?


African elephant
(Loxodonta africana)

Asian elephant
(Elephas maximus)

African elephant
Asian elephant


4000 - 7000 kg

3000 - 6000 kg

Shoulder height

3 - 4 Meter

2 - 3.5 Meter


More wrinkled


Number of ribs

Up to 21 pairs

Up to 20 pairs

Highest point

On the shoulder

On the back

Size of the ears

reach up over the neck

do not reach over the neck

Shape of the back


Convex or straight

Shape of the belly

Diagonally downward in the direction of the hind legs

Either almost straight or sagging in the middle

Shape of the head

Not crumpled from the front to the back, no humped structures, no dent

Crumpled from the front to the back, with humped structures on the top of the head, forehead dented

Head of a african elephant
Head of a asian elephant

Lamella profile of the molars diamond-shaped

Lamella profile of the molars strongly compressed

african molar
asia molar

Existing with both sexes. Bigger with the males

Males in many cases having tusks. Females having only rudimentary or no tusks

Lower lip

short and round

long and taper


Mainly leaves

Mainly grass


With more rings, less hard

With less rings, harder

Trunk end

With two fingers

With one finger


Trunk of a african elephant

trunk of a asian elephant


Foreleg 4 or rarely 5
Hind leg 3 or rarely 4

Foreleg 5
Hind leg 4 or rarely 5

Are there half-breeds?

The genetic differences however are so great that they actually cannot be interbred.
The only known crossbreed between an African and an Asian elephant was born in the Chester zoo in 1978. The bull calf "Motty" died, despite intensive nursing care, two weeks after its birth. Its father was the African bull "Jumbolino" and its mother the Asian elephant cow "Sheba".
More details about Motty: www.hybridelephant.com/motty.html

Motty the hybrid elephant

Is keeping African elephants more difficult?

The rumour is wrong that Asian elephants would be easier to keep in zoos or circuses than African elephants.
Both elephant species live in various circuses and zoos. The only thing that rendered the Asian elephants better known as working, zoo and circus elephants is the Asian tradition of catching and taming wild elephants.
So the most famous zoo and circus elephant "Jumbo" was a african bull.

When the Belgians in colonial times intended to stub the jungle of Belgian Congo, they employed Indian mahouts, who successfully caught and trained the African elephants according to the Asian method. Nowadays safaris on the backs of African riding elephants become more and more popular in Africa.

Jumbo 1882
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