Elephants are one of the most distinctive animals on earth. Not only are they one of the largest and one of 18 surviving megafauna, but their prehensile trunk is also completely unique.
Combined with intelligence, generally friendly behavior, and a curiosity that charms people who know them, elephants are beloved the world over.
However, there are only three elephant species left: the African elephant, which includes the African Forest Elephant and the African Bush Elephant; and the Asian Elephant.
They’re also the last of the Elephantidae, a larger group of similar animals that previously included mammoths and mastodons.
This means there aren’t really any animals that look exactly like elephants. However, you can find some similarities in nose, size, and appearance.
Scientific Name (genus): Tapirus
Why They Made The List: Tapirs have a flexible snout that allows them to manipulate food – but it’s only a fraction of the length of the elephants’.
Tapirs include a diverse family of land mammals native to South America. All four living species resemble a pig or hog but with a prehensile nose trunk. In most cases, this trunk is just a few inches long.
The trunk serves to allow the tapir to pull soft vegetation off of rocks and lake bottoms.
Most tapirs are also semi-aquatic. However, they can live completely on dry land and are known to do so.
With access to water, though, tapirs spend most of their time in the water, using it to feed, to have fish remove parasites, and to wallow for cooling.
Otherwise, tapirs look very little like elephants. The largest is usually about 6-7 feet long and about 3 feet high and they weigh a maximum of about 700 pounds.
While still large by human standards, that’s a tiny fraction of the 14,000 pounds an adult bush elephant can weigh.
2. Giant Anteater
Scientific Name: Myrmecophaga tridactyla
Why They Made The List: The giant anteater doesn’t look much like an elephant, but it does have a very long snout.
Giant anteaters are the largest anteaters and also the ones with the longest snouts.
In fact, at up to 110 pounds, these 7-foot-long mammals are larger than most people realize. They also have very long snouts, usually over a foot long.
Unlike the elephant, that snout is very immobile. Most anteaters can barely move their jaws.
Instead, they use a long, prehensile tongue to flick out and grab ants – which are their primary food source. That tongue is often 2 feet long or more.
In addition, the anteater can fully extend and retract the tongue in and out of its mouth 3 times per second, allowing it to grab and eat ants before they can respond.
Otherwise, anteaters have no similarities with elephants. They’re solitary, insectivorous, and are only native to central and south America.
Scientific Name: Saiga tatarica
Why They Made The List: Saiga antelope have an elongated nose that looks similar to a very short trunk.
Saiga antelopes are a critically endangered species of antelope native to Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. In ancient times, these antelopes were numerous across Eurasia, including in the British Isles.
Today, they’re much less common, which is why most people have never heard of them. However, these antelopes stand out with a distinctive long noses.
Unlike the elephant, this is a nose and not a trunk, and it isn’t prehensile.
Instead, the antelope uses large and long nostrils to cool itself while running, allowing blood to pump through thin skin, where it loses heat more quickly. Otherwise, the nose serves no known purpose.
Saigas are normally 2-3 feet high at the shoulder and weigh up to 152 pounds. That makes them one of the larger antelopes, but usually 1/100th of the size of an elephant.
Scientific Name: Rhinocerotidae
Why They Made The List: Rhinoceroses are one of the few living megafaunas and share similar coloration and hide with elephants.
Rhinoceroses include 5 species of megafauna herbivores, all of which weigh more than a ton in adulthood.
These mammals all share a thick gray or black hide covered with short bristly hair. This and their size are their primary similarities with the elephant.
However, they also share similar environments. Java, Sumatra, and the Indian continent are all home to elephants and rhinoceroses.
That also holds true for central and sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to bush elephants and black rhinoceroses.
Unfortunately, rhinoceroses are almost all endangered. Only the Indian Rhinoceros is not critically endangered.
This means it’s rare to see elephants and rhinoceroses today outside of zoos. However, they often share a similar diet, similar grazing patterns, and a similar preference to wallow in mud or water baths.
The largest rhinoceros is usually close to 8,000 pounds. However, that still puts them at about half the size of the largest elephants.
Scientific Name (family): Hippopotamidae
Why They Made The List: Hippos are megafauna with dark gray hides similar to elephants.
Hippopotamuses are almost as famous as elephants for their size. Both living species are native to the African continent, just like the elephant.
However, the hippopotamus is native to Central and Southern Africa, although historically they probably ranged as far as the British Islands.
Of the two species of hippos, the common hippo is the larger. In fact, many weigh over 4,000 pounds. That’s still significantly smaller than an elephant. It’s also much smaller than the hippos closest living relatives, whales.
However, hippos also have a smaller cousin, the pygmy hippo. At about a ¼ of the weight and half the height, these hippos can look like baby or juvenile hippos.
All hippos live primarily in the water, and they have to. They don’t have sweat glands, meaning they will overheat if they don’t have water to regulate body temperature.
Most also forage exclusively in the water, meaning they thrive in slow-moving rivers.
There is no animal that closely resembles the elephant except for extinct species like mammoths and mastodons. Still, you can find plenty of animals with superficial similarities to elephants. Whether that’s similar skin, eating habits, or a prehensile snout, none are exactly like an elephant.