Elephants are the largest and heaviest mammals to live on land. The modern elephant is classified under the order, Proboscidea. About 50-60 million years ago, Proboscidean species inhabited every continent on earth with the exception of Australia and Antarctica. The only remaining species still alive today is the Asian elephants and African elephants. The closest relatives of today’s elephants are the mammoths, manatees, and hyraxes. However, mitochondrial genome sequencing has shown that the extinct mammoths that diverged about 26 million years ago are more closely related to Asian than African elephants.
The Asian elephant is strictly herbivorous and can be distinguished from its African cousin by its smaller size and by the shape of its ears. African elephant’s ears resemble the continent of Africa; whereas Asian elephants have smaller, rounded ears. The Asian elephant has been long hunted for its ivory tusks and is a highly endangered species.