Often in cartoons when we were kids, we saw elephants jumping when they were startled or scared. More than often, it also included mice or spiders scaring them (remember Badou from Babar?).
Since it involved a mice, it’s quite hard to say that this happened in their natural habitat, a clue to the myth!
Sorry to break it to you – it’s a myth. Elephants can’t jump. And there really isn’t any difference between adult elephants or baby elephants. Neither can jump.
The reason why elephants can’t jump has a lot to do with their anatomy. For starters, elephants are really, really heavy. African elephants weigh in at around an average of 13,000 pounds (5,800 kilograms). That’s about the same as 10 mid-size cars.
But it’s not just their weight that makes jumping difficult – it’s also their legs and their history.
Let us walk you through the key reasons why an elephant can’t jump.
Why can’t elephants jump?
Elephants are too heavy to jump
The main reason why elephants can’t jump has to do with their weight. Just like how it’s harder for obese humans to jump, the same logic applies to elephants.
When you’re carrying around all that extra weight, jumping becomes a lot more difficult – if not impossible.
But an elephant’s weight isn’t just due to their size. Elephants also have a lot of extra baggage in the form of their trunks.
While an elephant’s trunk might not seem that heavy, it actually accounts for about 290 pounds (130 kgs) of their total body weight (~1-3%).
Their legs and their muscles aren’t built for jumping
Another key reason why elephants can’t jump has to do with their leg muscles and structure.
Unlike many other animals who have long and strong hind legs and huge calf muscles (think: gazelles, kangaroos, and frogs) and strong achilles tendons, elephants have relatively short legs and weak leg muscles in comparison to the rest of their body.
This is because their legs are designed more for strength, stability, and durability rather than for leaping and jumping.
In fact, an elephant’s legs are so strong that they can support the animal’s entire weight – even when they’re lying down!
But because their leg muscles and bones aren’t built for jumping, it means that elephants don’t have the same explosive power needed to propel them into the air.
They’re simply more the wimpy lower leg muscles kind.
They can’t jump because they would fall over
Here’s another fascinating reason why elephants can’t jump: if they did, they would probably fall over. That’s because elephants have a very long and slender back, which makes them top-heavy.
This is especially true for African elephants, whose backs are even more curved than Asian elephants.
To put it simply, if an elephant tried to jump, the momentum would probably cause them to lose their balance and topple over – not exactly a graceful sight.
Jumping is dangerous for elephants
Remember how we said that elephants are really, really heavy? Well, all that weight means that they put a lot of stress on their joints and bones – especially when they land.
When you leap, your hips, knees, and ankles bend. The flexion of these joints helps to absorb the shock when you land. Elephants fall more in the “not very flexible ankles” compartment.
Because of the non-need of jumping, an elephant’s skeleton isn’t built that way. For an animal like an elephant, jumping would put them at risk of serious injury, or even death.
Elephants don’t need to jump
In the wild, elephants really don’t have a need to jump. And there hasn’t been a reason elephants would have to be able to jump throughout history.
They can use their trunks and their tusks to reach food that’s high up, and they can use their size and strength to intimidate predators. There’s simply no evolutionary advantage for this mammal to be able to jump.
Elephants are happy just walking around
Elephants are really just happy walking around on land with their herd. They spend their day eating and don’t need to take to the air like some of their fellow animals. They haven’t really evolved this way throughout history.
The Smithsonian video about Elephants not being able to jump
A few years back, The Smithsonian got a question from one of their viewers, it’s a great summary of the reasons we’ve also gone through. Take a look!
There’s also a short fact (fact #3) in this video from National Geographic.
Other mammals that don’t jump
There are other large mammals like hippos and rhinos that can’t jump either. They all share the same reasons to the elephant. They are simply to big and their bodies aren’t build for it.
Hippopotamuses are actually more closely related to whales and dolphins than they are to other land mammals! While rhinoceroses are the largest land mammals after elephants, they are actually very closely related to horses and tapirs.
Hippos and rhinos do however own elephants in one way, they achieve moments with all four feet off the ground when they run while elephants always have at least one foot on the ground.
Elephants are the largest land mammals on Earth and they can’t jump. This is because they have relatively short legs and weak leg muscles in comparison to the rest of their body.
Their legs are designed more for strength, stability, and durability rather than for leaping and jumping.
In fact, an elephant’s legs are so strong that they can support the animal’s massive body weight without collapsing.
If an elephant tried to jump, it would probably fall over and get injured. Elephants don’t need to jump because they can use their trunks and tusks to reach food that is high up, and they can use their size and strength to intimidate predators.
There is simply no evolutionary advantage for this beautiful mammal to be able to jump.
FAQ on Elephants (not) jumping
No, elephants cannot jump.
There are a few reasons why elephants cannot jump. One reason is that they are simply too big and their legs are not long enough in proportion to their body to give them the necessary leverage to jump.
There is no definitive answer to this question as it depends on how you define “jump”. If you consider any movement that gets all four feet off the ground to be a “jump”, then the only animal that can’t jump is the elephant. If, however, you consider only vertical jumps to be “jumps”, then there are many animals that cannot jump, including hippos, rhinos, and some species of snakes.
No, elephants cannot jump a fence.
If an elephant tried to jump, it would likely fall over and get injured. This is because their legs are not designed for jumping and they are not able to generate enough power to jump vertically.
No, elephants do not jump when startled. They may run away if they are scared, but they will not jump.