Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park
Behold the elephant—the planet’s largest terrestrial animal—and learn the true meaning of awesome!
Meet one of Earth’s most colossal, fascinating and beloved animals—African elephants!
African Elephants in the Wild
African elephants can be found in over 37 countries of sub-Saharan Africa. They are able to live in a variety of habitats, from dense forests to wet marshes to open and closed savannas—even arid deserts.
Threats to African Elephants
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently lists the elephant species as “vulnerable.” But a growing demand for ivory has caused elephants to be slaughtered at unprecedented levels—over 35,000 elephants were killed by poachers in 2013 alone.
Disney Conservation Efforts
The Walt Disney Company is passionately committed to the protection of African elephants and their natural habitats. Find out what Disney is doing for elephants—and how you can help!
“I have learned from the animal world, and what everyone will learn who studies it, is a renewed sense of kinship with the Earth and all its inhabitants.” – Walt Disney
African elephants face 3 major threats—habitat loss, poaching and human-elephant conflicts.
Big Appetites, Shrinking Resources
The amount of food a wild elephant must consume requires a great deal of space, which is a diminishing resource on our overdeveloped planet. Meanwhile, free roaming elephants are seen as dangerous as they kill people and destroy crops, often a family’s only source of income. A herd of elephants can destroy a month’s worth of income in one raid—which in turn can lead to the killing of a wild elephant.
Despite an international ban on ivory in 1989, elephants continue to be illegally hunted (poached) for their tusks, which are used to produce ivory artifacts and jewelry for the global black market. It is estimated that 96 African elephants are killed every day by criminals and crime syndicates.
Disney Is Helping Elephants in the Wild
The African elephant is currently listed as a vulnerable species, due in large part to poaching driven by the illegal ivory trade. Human-elephant conflict, where elephants are killed in retaliation for damaged crops, homes and even loss of human life, is another contributing factor. The Disney Conservation Fund is helping to reverse this unfortunate elephant decline by supporting nonprofit organizations whose work addresses poaching and human-elephant conflict, protects elephant habitat and trains local conservationists. Scientists and educators from Disney’s Animal Kingdom park also play a key role, often collaborating with conservation organizations to creatively address the challenges facing elephants in the wild.
Living in Harmony with Elephants
In Kenya, scientists from Disney’s Animal Kingdom park collaborated with the Disney Conservation Fund to help the nonprofit organization Save the Elephants find a solution to human-elephant conflicts caused by crop-raiding elephants. Their combined research confirmed that elephants are afraid of African honey bees, so Disney and Save the Elephants worked together to build beehive fences to protect local farms. These low-cost, eco-friendly fences are effective in protecting both crops and elephants. As an added bonus, the beehives also provide a new source of income for impoverished communities—“elephant friendly” honey!
Elephant Alarm Collars
Disney’s collaboration with Save the Elephants also helped develop high-tech alarm collars that use GPS and motion-sensor technology to track elephants—first at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park and now in Africa. This “wearable technology” will support anti-poaching efforts in Kenya, providing an early-warning system for ground forces defending the animals. The collars can also be used to locate a wild elephant in distress and to provide long-term data on elephant behaviors that will help scientists plan for the species’ long-term survival.
Elephants are intelligent, social and complex animals—and meeting all of their care requirements is a jumbo task!
Our African elephant habitats are designed to enrich the animals’ lives and encourage them to display natural behaviors such as social interaction, foraging and play. Spread out over 7 expansive acres, the habitats include mud wallows, rocks to rub against, a variety of natural plants and trees for foraging and exploration and 3 pools—deep enough for several elephants to swim in at once! Floating melons or coconuts are placed in the pool and special veggie treats are hidden on the grounds to encourage the elephants to work to retrieve them, keeping them busy, active and mentally stimulated.
To feed our African elephants, Disney’s Animal Kingdom park grows its own willow and banana plants, as well as a special elephant grass that our 8 elephants consume at a rate of 1000 pounds a day! Grass hays like Bermuda and Timothy make up a large part of our elephants’ diet, along with “browse” when it’s available (leaves, twigs and young shoots)—plus a specially formulated herbivore cube for added nutrition. Carrots, sweet potatoes and apples are used daily as training rewards.
Veterinary Care and Animal Training
The animal care experts at Disney use positive training to teach these intelligent animals to participate in their own health care. Each elephant voluntarily starts its day with a bath, which ensures great skin care and gives the animal care experts a chance to conduct a full-body inspection. The elephants follow a sound cue to move from their exhibit spaces back to their night housing, allowing the animal care experts to maintain the exhibits while the elephants are safely secured.
Fancy Foot Work
Our elephants’ feet are inspected daily for cracks or splits—after all, there’s a lot riding on those feet! When asked, the elephants lift their feet onto a stand, maintaining a safe barrier between the animal care expert and the animal during these jumbo pedicures. The combination of large habitats and plenty of exercise plus excellent nutrition and meticulous foot care means that our elephants at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park rarely have foot problems!
Elephants are among the world’s most intelligent and sensitive animals, with extraordinary empathy and self-awareness. No surprise—they have the largest brain of any terrestrial animal!
Mother Knows Best
Elephants live in close-knit family groups of 2 to 40 related females and their calves. The herd is led by a matriarch, usually the oldest female, who has the experience—and memory—to lead them to watering holes and feeding grounds she may not have seen in decades!
Elephants Never Forget
Other than people, elephants are one of the only animals known to mourn the passing of another member of their species. Elephants encountering a dead elephant have been observed lingering for hours to smell a fallen friend, often lifting the bones and carrying them around.
Big Families, No Bull
An adult male (bull) elephant can weigh up to 14,000 pounds (6,350 kg) and stand 11 feet tall (3.4 m), while an adult female (cow) stands 8 feet tall (2.4 m) and weighs 7,700 pounds (3,493 kg). Male African elephants never stop growing, and can reach 7½ tons! Elephants typically live into their late 30’s, but can live to 50 or more!
Elephant trunks are amazing!—a combination of upper lip and nose that is used for breathing, smelling, drinking, feeding, dust bathing, greeting and caressing. Thirsty elephants use their trunks to draw up gallons of water to spray into their mouths. African elephant trunks have 2 finger-like extensions at the end that they use to pick leaves, pull bark off trees or pick up objects as small as a coin! Both gentle and strong, an elephant trunk is capable of killing a lion—or caressing a frightened calf.
Both male and female African elephants have an impressive pair of tusks, extra-long incisor teeth that grow continuously throughout their lifetime. Elephants use their tusks to dig for water or food, knock over trees and defend against predators. For chewing, they have 4 molars—on the top and bottom of each side of their mouth—that can weigh 11 pounds and measure 12 inches long!
The large ears of African elephants are shaped like the continent of Africa! But here’s an even stranger fact—elephants can lower their body temperature by 10 degrees simply by flapping their ears! Blood vessels on the back of their ears are cooled by the flapping, sending cooler blood through the rest of the body—a personal cooling system!
What can one person or family do to protect African elephants and their habitats—more than you think!
Never Buy Ivory
Approximately 96 African elephants are killed every day for their ivory tusks—and Americans are among the consumers of this cruel luxury. By pledging not to buy ivory jewelry or other ivory products, you can be an example to the world and help protect elephants for generations to come.
Buy Elephant Paper!
What goes in must come out. An adult bull elephant can produce 300 pounds of dung in a day! For conservation-ists, that’s not a problem—it’s a solution! Elephant lovers are turning jumbo poop into recycled paper! You can help elephants—and the people who live near them—by buying wildlife-friendly elephant paper!
Elephants, Disney and You
The Walt Disney Company is committed to the future of our planet and the preservation of its infinitely rich variety of people, places, plants and wildlife. Explore the websites below and learn how we are making the world a better place—and the many creative ways you can help make a real difference, too!
“Conservation isn’t just the business of a few people, it’s a matter that concerns all of us…If we will use our riches wisely, if we will protect our wildlife, and preserve our lakes and streams, these things will last us for generations to come.” – Walt Disney
Meet the elephant care specialists at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park—and enjoy a closer look at these majestic animals.