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 tusks, 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 and Tyranitar have the same species. They are both known as Armor Pokémon.
Pokémon Crystal is the only known game in which Donphan lifts up its trunk.
Kenta Miyake, who plays Giovanni in the original Japanese anime series, voices Donphan in both the Japanese and English-language versions of the anime.
According to Trading cards for the first movie, Donphan was originally named Donfan.
The names Phanpy and Donphan may be derived from the character names Pompy and (Tom) Doniphan from the classic western film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. This was mentioned in a Players Pulse letter in Nintendo Power Magazine by a fan of the games.