Known as: Asian Elephant, Asiatic Elephant.
Estimated numbers left in the wild: Approximately 40,000 to 50,000 individuals.
Smaller than the African elephant, the Asian elephant weighs from 2 to 5 tonnes and stands between 2 and 3 metres tall. They can live for up to six decades in the wild, protected from most predators except man by their bulk, thick hide, and formidable tusks. Their sensitive yet muscular trunks give them an excellent tool for manipulating their environment, while their large ears help to keep them cool in tropical heat despite their size.
Highly intelligent and social herd animals, Asian elephants use their trunks for everything from gathering food to spraying water on themselves in the heat to social interaction. Fascinatingly, elephants use subsonic sounds too low for the unaided human ear to hear – to communicate over long distances, allowing herd members to stay in contact with each other while up to 5 kilometres apart.
Diet: Asian elephants are strictly herbivorous, using their trunks and tusks to gather foliage, tree bark, and other edible plant products. The tusks are also used in combat between rival bulls, and as a defensive weapon against predators. The Asian elephant is far easier to domesticate than its African cousin and has therefore been used for heavy tasks such as moving logs or large stones, as an armoured war beast, and for countless other tasks over the past several thousand years.
Location: The Asian elephant and its subspecies are found in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Sumatra, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Borneo, China, and the Malay Peninsula.
Asian elephants are fairly versatile in their choice of habitat, being found from sea level to 3,000 meters up the slopes of the Himalayas. Grassland, scrubland, secondary forests, and a variety of primary forests – dry thorn, dry and moist deciduous, semi-evergreen, and tropical evergreen – are all places where these elephants can be found.
Threats: Human activity is the principle threat to the Asian elephant’s survival in the wild. Much of the danger comes from a combination of habitat loss and habitat fragmentation. Close to a fifth of humanity currently lives adjacent to the wild Asian elephant habitat, making it particularly vulnerable to further losses. Seasonal elephant migrations often bring humans and elephants into violent conflict. Furthermore, many elephants are still captured from the wild for use as work animals, thus avoiding the period when young elephants would need to be cared for with no immediate financial return. This process reduces the wild population and often results in unnecessary elephant deaths. Finally, Asian elephants are hunted for their tusks, for their hide (used for shoes in Thailand), and for their bones (used medicinally in China).
Conservation efforts: Conservation efforts are underway to protect and preserve the wild populations of Asian elephants. This magnificent animal is a crucial flagship species used to rally support for conservation of other species and habitats in the region. Captive breeding of work animals is also being encouraged to reduce and eventually eliminate the destructive capture of wild animals to replenish domestic stocks.
International Elephant Foundation
International Elephant Foundation is an American organisation founded by a corporation of individuals and institutions to protect elephants in Africa and in Asia.
Wildlife Conservation Society
Wildlife Conservation Society was formed in 1895 with the aim of protecting 25 percent of the world’s biodiversity by promoting the importance of protecting wildlife and their habitats. WCS has five zoos in New York.