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Did you know that elephants are the largest land mammals on the planet? And in brute strength, they are probably the strongest ones.
In spite of their enormous size and strength, elephants are surprisingly kind creatures.
Given all this, it’s natural to wonder: Are elephants predators or prey?
Are Elephants Predators?
No, elephants are not considered predators. They are herbivorous animals that primarily eat grasses, leaves, bark, and fruits. Elephants are actually the largest herbivores on land.
However, elephants are known to defend themselves and their young calves aggressively when in danger. In some cases, they may attack predators such as lions or hyenas that pose a threat to their offspring or the other calves in the herd. But this behavior is more defensive than predatory.
So, elephants are not predators in the traditional sense of the word, as they do not actively hunt and kill other animals for food.
Do Elephants Kill Other Animals?
Even though elephants don’t actively hunt other animals, they have been seen acting aggressively toward other animals in some situations. For example, male elephants (bulls), during musth, a period of increased testosterone, have been known to attack and kill other animals, including other elephants.
Bulls have also been observed engaging in disputes with other large herbivores, such as rhinos and buffaloes, which can sometimes result in violent conflicts.
In this video, an elephant attacked a rhino without being provoked. It is highly likely that this bull was in the musth period.
Male elephants release 60 times more testosterone than usual during that period of increased aggression. This state can last anywhere from a few days to a few months, and in rare situations, for more than a year!
However, it’s important to note that such aggressive behavior is relatively rare and not a typical part of elephants’ behavior. Overall, elephants are not dangerous animals that spend most of their time foraging, socializing, and caring for their young.
Are Elephants Prey?
Adult elephants have very few natural predators, with the exception of human hunters and, in rare cases, a large pride of lions or crocodiles. Yet, young elephants, particularly calves, are vulnerable to predation by lions, hyenas, and other large carnivores.
Elephant calves are born weighing about 250 pounds and stand 3 feet tall. They are small, clumsy, and very vulnerable.
A calf is entirely under the mother’s protection for the first couple of months. They even drink their mothers’ milk until they turn 2 years.
A first year for calves is most crucial in the battle for survival. The average lifespan of elephants is around 65 years, yet 30% of calves do not remain alive until 1 year old.
On the other hand, fully-grown African elephants stand up to 21 feet and weigh between 19,000 and 15,000 pounds. So for most predators out there, elephants’ size and strength make them formidable opponents, and they are typically able to defend themselves.
Read Also: Do Elephants Ever Eat Meat?
What Are the Main Predators of Elephants?
Even though elephants live with some of the scariest and strongest animals on Earth, it might surprise you to learn that people are their biggest threat. The primary predator of elephants is not a ferocious animal but rather the greed of humans.
Humans have been known to poach elephants, primarily for their ivory tusks, which are used to create jewelry, ornaments, and even billiard balls. This illegal trade has resulted in a significant decline in elephant populations across the globe.
Despite laws in many countries prohibiting the killing of elephants, poaching continues to be a problem, with many people breaking the law in pursuit of profit.
Hyenas are among the most successful African predators, but even for them, an adult elephant is too big of a bite to chew.
In fact, elephants are known to be one of the few animals in the wild that hyenas are afraid of, and they will typically avoid them unless they are in a pack and can overpower a young or weakened elephant.
Hyenas are more likely to scavenge on the remains of dead elephants rather than actively hunt them.
Even though elephants are not the usual prey for crocks, they are known to attack smaller elephants when they come to rivers in order to drink water.
Crocodiles mainly eat small mammals, fish, birds, and other lizards, but by being opportunistic predators, they would attack any alive prey given a chance.
Lions are the only predators capable of taking down an adult elephant. However, they also prefer targeting young and weak calves.
Yet, in the rare footage below, a pack of lions managed to take down a fully grown elephant. Desperate times require desperate measures.
Related Article: Do Elephants Swim?
How Do Elephants Protect Themselves?
While adult elephants usually don’t have to worry about most predators, yet, if someone decides to go after these giants, they have a few defense mechanisms.
One of the most apparent means of protection that elephants use is their intimidating appearance. Elephants are enormous and have large ears that they can flap to make themselves look bigger and more intimidating.
As a result, their size, coupled with their physical appearance, helps to deter most potential carnivores.
Elephants are also incredibly strong animals. Their sheer size and weight give them the power to push over trees, break through fences, and even flip cars.
In the wild, elephants use their strength to protect themselves from predators. They can charge at predators to scare them away or use their weight to crush intruders.
Interestingly, these giant mammals are known to have incredible memories, and they can use their strength to defend themselves against predators that they have encountered before.
Elephants have a unique way of communicating with each other. They use a variety of sounds, including trumpeting, rumbling, and growling.
Loud noises can also be used as a means of protection. If an elephant feels threatened, it will trumpet loudly to alert other elephants in the area.
They make extremely loud rumbles. The sound measured is around 105 dB, and this warning signal is often enough to deter predators and keep the herd safe. For comparison purposes, 104 dB is equivalent to the noise a helicopter emits from just a few meters away.
Finally, if they are cornered, elephants will use their tusks as a means of protection. They can grow up to 8 feet long and weigh over 100 pounds.
Tusks are incredibly strong and can be used to defend against predators or as digging tools. Additionally, male elephants will use their tusks to fight other males during mating season.
Are Elephants Endangered?
There are two groups of elephant species left in the world: Asian and African elephants, and both species face long-term danger.
Yet Asian elephants are even more endangered. Only about 50,000 are left in the world, and the number is declining.
African elephants are slightly in a better situation. There are an estimated 400,000 elephants left in Africa.
You may wonder what the main reasons are for the declining elephant population.
The primary cause is habitat loss, not the fact that their natural predators have hunted them. Elephants are dependent on vast territories, which are crucial for their food and water supplies.
Asian elephants are especially exposed to habitat loss because their habitats are getting rapidly smaller.
Another big reason is poaching. Poaching threatens the elephant population regardless of their habitat. Every year, more than 1,000 elephants are killed by poachers.
Climate changes are another big problem. Global warming is draining areas worldwide, making it hard for elephants to find water resources.
Adult elephants, in their natural habitat, are not known to be either predators or prey. They do not have many natural enemies, except for humans and rarely lions, who pose a threat to their survival. Elephants are herbivores and do not hunt other animals to feed themselves, so they are not considered predators.
In most cases, elephants are kind and peaceful animals. Yet, male ones have their dark side. When testosterone hits bulls, they are known to go into a “crazy” state of mind. While in high testosterone conditions, attacks on other animals and people can happen.