Identifying elephants isn't difficult, but it requires using powers of observation and it takes a bit of practice. There are many different characteristics that you can use to identify an elephant: sex; body size; shape; length and configuration of the tusks; size and shape of the ears; ear venation patterns; notches, tears, holes in the ears. ElephantVoices has developed eight educational modules explaining how to read and understand these characteristics, also used in the Mara Elephants Who's Who database.

You should start by determining whether the elephant you are trying to identify is male or female, and get help from How to sex African Elephants.

An elephant's tail can also be used to distinguish an individual. Learn more about a few of the more obvious features by clicking on the screenshot to the right, or on one of the links to photos below. You will then start a slideshow. The caption shown is equal to respective text on this page. You can go through slide by slide - or let it run through automatically. Learn more about elephants - enjoy!

What to look for when using the tail to identify African elephants

  1. Some elephants have what we call a "kinky tail" - this particular elephant also has a unusually "short tail". Photo H1
  2. Others have an unusually "short tail" - the tail of this particular elephant would also fit into the category "kinky tail". Photo H2
  3. A few have "half tails" having been bitten by hyenas when they were calves. Photo H3
  4. Still others have been bitten and left with "no tail" at all. Photo H4