The savanna elephants that live in the Maasai Mara are the largest subspecies of elephant. Their extra-large ears and longer front legs distinguish them from the others. They can be found in the grassy plains, forests, deserts and bushlands of Africa and live in family units consisting of around 10 females and their offspring. Family units often join together to establish a herd led by a female matriarch. Adult male elephants roam on their own or in bachelor herds. Without unwarranted threats, African elephants can live up to 70 years in the wild.
At 22 months, female elephants have the longest gestation period of any mammal. At birth, a baby African elephant is helpless, and continues to rely on its mother through adolescence. Mother elephants use their trunks to comfort and guide baby elephants. It takes babies some time to learn how to use their trunks properly and not trip over them.
All African elephants have tusks, a blessing and a curse. These tusks are actually elongated incisors with 1/3 of it hidden from view. Elephant tusks continue growing throughout their lifetime. While the tusks are used for defense, they are also useful tools for foraging for food. An adult African elephant can consume up to 600 pounds of grasses, seedlings, roots, fruit and bark in a single day. In the plains of the Mara/Serengeti, hungry elephants will walk over 50 miles (80 kilometers) in a single day to find food. These animals have the largest brains of any land mammal; through rumbles, snorts and trumpets they use their special communicative abilities to alert their peers of nourishment, as well as danger.
In ecological and conservation terms elephants are considered a “landscape species” (Wildlife Conservation Society Resources 2001, Didier et al. 2009). This means that they require large, diverse areas to live; have significant impact on the structure and function of natural ecosystems; are culturally or economically important; and are particularly vulnerable to the land-use and other practices of people.
Elephants are also referred to as an “architect species” capable of modifying habitats for the benefit of different plants and animals on both a local and wide scale. Another term used for elephants is a “keystone species” in cases where their presence has a strong influence on other species and where their removal is likely to have a correspondingly strong, even ‘cascading’ effect on the structure and function of ecosystems. Elephants act as an “umbrella species” because their wellness depends on large areas of the ecosystem being conserved and protected therefore serving the objective of wider biodiversity conservation. They are also a “flagship species” capturing the attention of people from all over the world, generating interest in and financial support for the conservation of all wildlife and the communities that share their habitats.