African Elephants


Artie (Aardvark) is a male African savanna elephant born in the wilds of Zimbabwe in 19... Learn More


Donna, formerly known as Eloise, was born in the wilds of Zimbabwe in 1980. At the age... Learn More


Born in the wilds of Africa in 1983, Edie was captured and relocated to the United Stat... Learn More


Flora was born in 1982 in the wilds of Zimbabwe, Africa. She was orphaned at age two an... Learn More


Nosey was born in Zimbabwe in 1982. She was captured from the wild in 1984 and brought... Learn More


Sukari was born wild in Zimbabwe in 1984 and imported to the United States in 1985. Upo... Learn More


Tange was born in the wilds of Africa in 1973 and then captured and imported with other... Learn More

Asian Elephants


Billie was born in India in 1962. Like most Asian elephants arriving in the United Stat... Learn More


Debbie was wild born in Asia in 1971, captured at a young age, and sent to the United S... Learn More


Minnie was born in Asia in 1966. She was taken from the wild and exported to North Amer... Learn More


Ronnie was born wild in Asia in 1966. Like so many other circus elephants, she was capt... Learn More


Captured in Thailand as a calf, Sissy first appeared in the United States on exhibit at... Learn More

About Elephants

Elephants are the only remaining members of the Proboscidea order of mammals. The order included the extinct wooly mammoth and American mastodon. 

Elephants are a “keystone species.” If a keystone species disappears through extinction or removal, the entire ecosystem would change drastically. Other species rely on the keystone species for survival.

Today there are three surviving elephant species:

  • Asian elephant (Elephas Maximus)
  • African savanna elephant (Loxodonta Africana)
  • African forest elephant (Loxodonta Cyclotis)
African Elephant Grazing in a Field at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee

African Elephants

African savanna elephants (Loxodonta Africana) live in the grasslands of sub-Saharan Africa. African forest elephant (Loxodonta Cyclotis) live in the Congo River Basin in western central Africa. 

Asian Elephant Sissy, Formerly Gerry II, Grazing at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee

Asian Elephants

Among Asian elephants (Elephas Maximus), there are three subspecies: Indian, Sri Lankan, and Sumatran. These are distinguished by physical traits related to their geographic location. 

In the wild, elephants are migratory, walking miles each day. They form intricate family structures and grieve for their dead in a more-than-instinctive way. They show humor and express compassion.

Physical Traits

There are several anatomical and behavioral differences between African and Asian elephants.


  • African savanna elephants have large ears shaped much like the continent of Africa.
  • African forest elephant ears are more oval-shaped. 
  • Asian elephant ears are smaller and more rounded.
  • Elephants use their ears to communicate and to regulate their body temperature.


  • African elephants have a rounded head.
  • Asian elephants have a twin-domed head.
  • African elephants display a sway back and very wrinkled skin.
  • Asian elephants have rounded backs and relatively smooth skin.


  • Like many herbivores, elephants have high crowned teeth called hypsodonts that are continually growing.
  • Elephants have six sets of molars throughout their life; the molars shed as they age.
  • African elephants of both sexes generally grow long incisor teeth called tusks.
  • Among Asian elephants, only males exhibit tusks, and not all males have them.
  • Tusks are modified, elongated incisors, and are essentially like other teeth, continuously growing throughout an elephant’s life. It is common for elephants in the wild and in human care to periodically chip distal portions of their tusks as they engage in natural foraging and social behaviors.
  • Elephants in human care may require routine tusk trims to prevent overgrowth.
  • Approximately one-third of a tusk is embedded deep in an elephant’s skull. Hidden from view, this portion of the tusk contains a core pulp cavity that contains tissue, blood, and nerves. The portion of the tusk that is visible is made of dentine with an outer layer of enamel.
  • Tusks are used for a variety of tasks, including foraging, digging, moving objects, stripping bark from trees and logs, and for protection.
  • Evidence suggests that some elephants may prefer one tusk over the other.


  • African elephants have two small finger-like projections at the end of the trunk. Asian elephants have one small finger-like projection at the end of the trunk.
  • These “fingers” are very sensitive and make it possible for elephants to pick up very small objects.
  • The trunk is used for communication, breathing, feeding, drinking, a wide variety of self-care behaviors such as mudding and digging and to pick up and manipulate objects.
Social Structure
  • All elephants are herd animals with a very definite social structure.
  • Family herds are led by a matriarch, usually the oldest female, and are made up of daughters, sisters, and their offspring.
  • Male elephants stay with the herd through adolescence and leave the herd around the age of 15.
  • Male elephants can remain solitary but often band together in small bachelor groups.
  • African savanna elephants can live in very large herds consisting of anywhere from 20 to 70 individuals. It is common for the African forest elephants and the Asian elephants to live in smaller herds.
  • All elephants are herbivores, consuming only plant material. You can help The Sanctuary Feed an Elephant for a day with a donation of $50.
  • African elephants are browsers, primarily eating whole trees, leaves, twigs, and bark. They also eat large quantities of grass in the wet season.
  • Asian elephants are primarily grazers, consuming a wide range of grasses and plants, including large amounts of bamboo.
Herd of African Elephants at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee

Educational Opportunities

Interactive Exhibits at The Elephant Discovery Center in Hohenwald, Tennessee

The Elephant Discovery Center

Hands-on self-guided exhibits and educational programming that explore the many ways elephants shape our world.

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Student on a Virtual Field Trip to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee

Distance Learning

Live, on-demand, and asynchronous content. Our programs are fun, educational, and cater to all ages.

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We use a system of solar-powered cameras to locate and monitor the elephants and to offer you, our friends and supporters, frequent glimpses of the elephants we are so fortunate to have in our care.

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