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AFRICAN ELEPHANT } Loxodonta africana

RANGE: Scattered throughout sub-Saharan Africa

STATUS: The African elephant is listed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

THREATS: Poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation, and human-elephant conflicts

African elephants are the largest living land animals on Earth, beating out their closest relatives, Asian elephants, by an average of several thousand pounds. They radiate excess body heat through their oversized ears to cool off on sweltering summer days, and use their impossibly long trunks — which are composed of about 100,000 different muscles — to breathe, smell, communicate, drink, and pick up tasty snacks like wild mangoes and acacia leaves. African elephants are highly social creatures and devote much of their time to play, luxuriating in muddy streambanks and swimming — quite well, in fact — in refreshingly cool lakes, spraying water through their outstretched trunks. African elephant populations have plummeted in the past 150 years, mostly due to poaching for the ivory trade, but today habitat loss due to human encroachment is an equally menacing threat.

Photo by Gary M. Stolz, courtesy USFWS