Elephants are popular at zoos and on safari. How long do elephants live? In this post, we’ll consider the lifespan of both Asian and African elephants in the wild and in captivity.
African elephants live for 56-70 years in the wild but only live for an average of 17 years while in captivity. Asian elephants live for 40-70 years in the wild but only live for an average of 19 years while in captivity. Some elephants die within a few years of being in captivity.
Now lets get into the specifics for each species for both wild and captivity life expectancy.
How Long do Asian Elephants Live in the Wild?
Asian elephants are very different from African elephants, and one of the ways that they are different is how long they tend to live while living in the wild. Asian elephants live for 40-75 years old while living in the wild.
On average, they live for 48 years but can live longer.
The large age expectancy range is caused by a variety of factors, including poachers and hunters.
Many Asian elephants are used to breaking down and carrying away trees. These elephants are called timber elephants and belong to the Asian elephant species.
Asian elephants that do not work as timber elephants live to be about 60 years old.
Asian elephants look different than African elephants because of their ears and head shape. Asian elephants have small ears that are very round, while African elephants have very large ears. African elephants tend to have a flat forehead that continues to the back of their head, while Asian elephant’s heads almost make it seem like they are constantly wearing a hat.
Asian elephants are also different than African elephants because most Asian elephants do not grow tusks; only some males do. Meanwhile, all African elephants grow very long tusks that are used for various purposes.
How Long do Asian Elephants Live in the Zoo?
Asian elephants only live for 19 years while in captivity, especially when they live in a zoo.
Many Asian elephants that are born in captivity usually die before they are 19 years old, but some Asian elephants live for up to 48 years while in captivity. They rarely live that long though.
Sadly, most Asian elephants that are alive today are in captive or semi-captive conditions.
Asian elephants are on the endangered species list, and there are only about 30,000–50,000 Asian elephants left in the world, and many are living in zoos or habitats.
They are safe from poachers in captivity but have shorter average lifespans.
How Long do African Elephants Live in the Wild?
African elephants live for 56-70 years in the wild.
There are two different types of African elephants; African forest elephants and African bush elephants.
African forest elephants are slightly smaller than African bush elephants. They also have large oval-shaped ears rather than large ears that are shaped like the African continent like African bush elephants.
African bush elephants, also known as African savanna elephants, are larger than African forest elephants. They are what people think of when they think about what an elephant looks like.
How Long do African Elephants Live in the Zoo?
African elephants live for an average of 17 years in a zoo, which is 1/3 of their expected lifespan of 56 years. Even if an African elephant is born in captivity and that is all that they know, they will only live for about 17 years.
They can live for longer, and have lived for up to 48 years in captivity, but those cases are rare.
African elephants are on the critically endangered list. Many African elephants are in captivity so that people can try to increase the population, but there are still only about 415,000 African elephants left.
African bush elephants are one of the animals to see in Uganda.
Now that you know a little about how long African and Asian elephants live, you may be wondering why they seem to die so quickly while in captivity.
It’s a multi-faceted problem and it’s worth exploring, especially if you love elephants.
Why do Elephants Live Longer in the Wild Than in Captivity?
Elephants live longer in the wild than in captivity because they are exposed to diseases that they do not have defenses against, and they are subjected to stress and sometimes become depressed.
Although some elephants do live for a very long time in captivity, they are rare cases. According to the African Wildlife Foundation, many captive elephants live very short lives.
Elephants often become very stressed out while they are living in captivity, which can shorten their lifespan over time.
Elephants do not live for a very long time in captivity because it’s hard for most zoos to mimic their natural habitat. If there is not a lot of room for them to roam in their enclosures, they often become depressed.
Elephants are used to living in wide-open spaces, but many zoos cannot provide that type of enclosure, so the elephant has to live in a small area and is not very happy because of it.
In addition, because they don’t get as much exercise and they have a regular supply of food that they do not have to search for, elephants can become obese.
Elephants also can develop arthritis that is partially caused by obesity.
Elephants are not built for standing in one place for a long period of time, they are built for wandering and walking nearly constantly. But at a zoo, they often end up standing in one place for a long time out of boredom or lack of stimulation.
Elephants are social creatures and often live in herds with 20-70 other elephants, although Asian elephants typically live in herds of 5-7 elephants, and male elephants tend to live like a bachelor; alone.
Zoos often cannot accommodate more than one or two elephants at a time, so many elephants are lonely. This can lead to depression, which can shorten their lifespan.
Many elephants develop diseases while in captivity such as herpes and tuberculosis, which are detrimental to their health and severely shortens their life expectancy.
Zoos and conservation programs are doing everything they can to give elephants a long and happy life, but they are complex and difficult creatures to care for.
Although this is a way to preserve the population, it’s not a perfect solution.
More reading: How Fast Can an Elephant Run?
Have a fact or detail to share? Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll answer it below or in a future post.
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Hi, I’m Dena Haines. And I’m co-founder of Storyteller Travel. I love to cover food, animals, and destinations around the world.
I also blog about photography at Storyteller Tech.