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Donphan is a gray, elephant-like Pokémon with a thick, black band of hide running down the length of its back and extending to the tip of its long trunk, resembling a car tire. This tough hide prevents regular attack from inflicting even a scratch. A pair of white tucks, which are smaller on the female, extend from the corners of its mouth. It has thin, elongated ears held out almost perpendicular to its body. Its four short legs are each encircled with a broken, black band and have three claws.
Donphan has the ability to curl up into a ball and violently roll around like a wheel. These rolling tackles are strong enough to knock down a house. Once it starts its rampage, it will be almost unstoppable. The anime shows that this ability is further used as a form of courtship. The male Donphan have rolling competitions to demonstrate to the females how tough they are. It has been demonstrated that Donphan has a keen sense of smell, capable of sniffing out a gem known as amberite. Donphan travels in herds with a ranking system. The larger its tusks, the higher its rank in the herd will be. It lives in rough, mountainous terrain.