Elephants are the largest living land animals, weighing up to 6 tons and standing over 10 feet tall. Despite their massive size and imposing tusks, elephants face their fair share of natural predators.

If you’re wondering what animal has the ability to take down these gentle giants, you’ve come to the right place.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: lions and tigers are the main predators of elephants, especially younger or weaker individuals.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take an in-depth look at which animals prey on elephants at different life stages. You’ll learn about the hunting strategies used by different predators and how elephants defend themselves.

We’ll also explore where elephant predation happens most frequently in the wild. So keep reading to uncover the fascinating dynamics between elephants and their natural enemies!


As the kings of the jungle, lions are formidable predators that can and do take down even elephant calves and occasionally juveniles or weakened adults. Their hunting strategies and coordinated group attacks give them an advantage against these giant animals.

Hunting Strategy and Success Rate

Lions generally live in prides of around 15 members. When targeting an elephant, the entire pride will work together – corralling the animal from different angles and looking for opportunities to attack. Studies have found lions successfully kill an elephant once for every 745 attempts.

So while elephants often come out unscathed, lions eventually wear them down through persistence.

Targeting Younger Elephants

Lions focus their elephant hunting on younger targets like calves and occasionally juveniles. Calves are more vulnerable as they lack the size and experience to adequately defend themselves. Even juveniles under 10 years old may have difficulty fending off an entire lion pride attacking from multiple directions.

However, healthy adult elephants are largely off the menu.

Differences Between Lions and Lionesses

Take the lead role by attacking the elephant head-on as a distraction while the lionesses strike from the sides or rear. Their mane offers protection for the neck during confrontations.
Lionesses Do most of the coordinated attacking with other lionesses. They lack the thick protective mane but tend to be more aggressive hunters in general.

Both male lions and lionesses play strategic roles based on their physical attributes when hunting elephants. Together their group tactics amplify their success rate against these gigantic pachyderms.


Stalk and Ambush Approach

Tigers are opportunistic hunters that employ stealth and the element of surprise to take down prey like elephants. They patiently stalk their quarry, often for hours, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce.

Tigers prefer to attack from the side or rear and will sneak through tall grasses and bushes to get within striking distance without being detected. Once close enough, they launch explosive ambush attacks, jumping onto the elephant’s back and delivering a lethal bite to the spine or back of the neck.

Their striped coats provide camouflage in the dappled light of the jungle, making it easier to remain undetected.

Attacks on Adults vs Calves

Though capable of taking down adult elephants under the right circumstances, tigers more frequently target younger, more vulnerable calves. Calves are smaller and lack the experience of adults, making them easier targets.

By contrast, healthy adult elephants are formidable opponents, with their large size and deadly tusks. Tigers will attempt to isolate calves from the herd and attack when the calves are separated from protective adults and have strayed too far from the group.

To get to calves, tigers have been known to boldly venture close to elephant herds, patiently analyzing for opportunities to ambush. Some opportunistic tigers have even been reported swimming across rivers to reach elephant calves on the opposite bank.

Evolutionary Arms Race

The dynamic between tigers and elephants represents a complex evolutionary arms race. Tigers have evolved stealthy hunting techniques and explosiveness to counter the elephant’s size and defenses. Elephants have developed group protective behaviors and long memories of tiger threats.

Elephant groups will often work together to ward off stalking tigers, circling calves protectively and using their numbers to drive off ambush attempts. This back-and-forth selective pressure has shaped the traits of both species over thousands of generations.

While elephants have the advantage of size, tigers continue attempting to evolve better ways to hunt these gigantic prey. Recent videos from India’s Nagarahole National Park captured rare footage showing the persistence of tigers’ efforts to overcome elephant defenses and successfully hunt calves.

This evolutionary dance seems likely to continue into the future.


Pack Hunting

Hyenas are highly effective pack hunters that use complex communication and coordinated attacks to take down prey much larger than themselves. Studies show their success rates in hunting can be as high as 90%! This is an astounding number compared to lions, whose success is only around 30%.

Hyenas will gather in clans of up to 80 individuals and fan out to encircle their prey. Researchers have identified over a dozen different vocalizations hyenas use when hunting together. The signal to attack is often preceded by a “rallying call” to get the pack pumped up.

They even have a specific sound that means “move closer together” so they can coordinate their attack.

Once the attack begins, hyenas overwhelm and confuse prey with their seemingly chaotic charging. Underneath the mayhem is a sophisticated strategy of some hyenas targeting the nose and eyes while others go for the legs or hindquarters.

This cooperative approach allows them to take down imposing animals like zebra, wildebeest and even young elephants!

Scavenging Opportunists

While hyenas are skilled hunters, they are perhaps best known as scavengers. They have extremely strong jaws and teeth that allow them to crush and digest bones. In fact, bones make up a large part of their diet.

This gives them an advantage when scavenging because they can eat parts of the carcass most other predators leave behind.

Hyenas will wait patiently at the periphery as lions take down prey. Once the lions have had their fill, the hyenas move in to clean up. They are also not above stealing fresh kills from leopards, cheetahs and wild dogs.

Aggressive mobbing behavior and their great numbers allow them to drive off competitors.

Research shows that scavenging provides over 50% of hyena clans’ nutritional intake. This opportunistic feeding strategy allows them to thrive in ecosystems alongside other apex predators. It also plays an important role in recycling nutrients back into the environment.

Mobbing Behavior

One of the hyena’s most well-known behaviors is mobbing, where they will gang up on other predators that compete for their food. This mob mentality allows them to drive off lions, leopards and other enemies despite being smaller in size.

When a threat is detected, the hyenas begin loudly whooping to call in reinforcements. They form an intimidating semicircle around the adversary and attempt to attack from behind or bite at the legs. Outnumbered and surrounded, most competitors will retreat to avoid injury.

There are some amazing videos showing confrontations where over a dozen hyenas force a pride of lions to abandon a fresh kill. Their tenacity and teamwork allows them to overcome significant size differences.

This resourcefulness and aggression are keys to their ecological success across sub-Saharan Africa.

Crocodiles and Alligators

As aquatic ambush predators, crocodiles and alligators pose a deadly threat to elephants when they venture into bodies of water. These reptiles have perfected surprise attacks from the water, using their powerful jaws to take down large prey.

Aquatic Ambush

Crocodiles and alligators typically hunt by waiting patiently underwater near river banks or water holes used by thirsty animals. When unsuspecting elephants come to drink, they strike with lightning speed, clamping their strong jaws around legs or trunks and dragging their prey into the depths.

Their scaly skin camouflages them in murky water, allowing them to strike before elephants even detect a threat. And once caught in that bone-crushing grip, few creatures can escape a crocodilian death roll.

Dragging Prey into Water

Crocodiles and alligators use their massive, muscular tails to sweep legs or trunks out from under elephants when attacking from the water’s edge. Once toppled, panicked elephants can become disoriented, allowing the predators to gain a better grip and pull them further into the water.

Nile crocodiles have even been documented attacking baby elephants as they cross rivers with their herds. With one swift motion, these opportunistic hunters can separate babies from protective adults and drag them below the surface. And adults find it almost impossible to fight back once in deeper water.

Surfacing for Air

No matter how mighty, all air-breathing animals must surface. This inherent vulnerability gives patient crocodilians their best chance to strike. They watch calmly while elephants splash about, waiting for the perfect attack opportunity when they emerge for breaths.

Using powerful sweeps of their muscular tails, crocodiles and alligators propel themselves upwards with jaws open wide as elephants surface. The surprise attack often allows them to get a firm bite before retreating safely back under the water.

And one good bite may be all it takes to mortally injure an elephant.

Habitat and Geography

Sub-Saharan Africa

The African elephant, largest living land animal, is found in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa. This region contains some of the most expansive savannas and woodlands on Earth, providing ample habitat for elephants to roam and forage.

African elephants require massive amounts of vegetation to sustain their huge bodies, consuming hundreds of pounds each day. Proximity to water sources is also essential as elephants drink over 50 gallons of water daily and enjoy cooling off by swimming or spraying dust on themselves.

Botswana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, and Mozambique have substantial elephant populations. However, habitat loss poses a major threat as human settlements expand into elephant ranges.

Protecting migration corridors between wilderness areas enables connectivity between fragmented elephant populations.

Southeast Asia

In contrast to the wide-open spaces of Africa, the Asian elephant inhabits more densely forested areas in South and Southeast Asia. Asian elephants are found in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

They thrive in lowland forests, grasslands, valleys, and scrublands. Proximity to water is also key as Asian elephants bathe and swim daily while also needing to drink regularly.

Sadly, Asian elephant numbers have declined significantly in modern times due to habitat loss and poaching. Strengthening conservation measures in national parks and protected areas are vital for the species’ long-term survival.

Major strongholds include Kaziranga National Park in India, Chitwan National Park in Nepal, and Yala National Park in Sri Lanka.

Proximity to Water Sources

Whether in the arid grasslands of Africa or the steamy jungles of Asia, a key commonality between elephant habitats is access to plentiful water sources. African and Asian elephants both require extensive daily intake of water to support their massive bodies.

An adult elephant drinks over 50 gallons of water per day on average.

Elephants are never found far from water and actually prefer staying within 1-2 miles of water sources like rivers, lakes, and pools. This enables convenient access for drinking, bathing, and playing. During dry seasons, elephants will dig water holes in sandy river beds using their tusks and feet to access groundwater.

Elephants also need shade trees near water holes to protect against overheating.

Some favorite elephant gathering spots include water holes in Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa and Minneriya Reservoir in Sri Lanka. Protecting critical water sources inside elephant habitats ensures healthy, thriving populations.


Elephants face a range of formidable predators throughout their habitat range. While adult elephants are less vulnerable due to their size, younger and older individuals can fall prey to opportunistic hunters like lions, tigers, and crocodilians.Female elephants fiercely guard their calves against predators and elephants band together in defensive herds for protection.

Understanding the predator-prey dynamics in elephant habitats provides important insights into ecosystem balance and species conservation.

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