Wednesday 15 May
Asian elephant (Elephas maximus)
- Asian elephants are very important in the religious and cultural history of the region in which they live.
- Asian elephants eat up to 150kg of food and defecate up to 18 times a day.
Asian elephant fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Asian elephant description
Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) are smaller than their African savannah relatives (Loxodonta africana) and have many other physical features that distinguish them. The ears are smaller and the back is more rounded so that the crown of the head is the highest point of the body (2). One of the characteristic features of an elephant are the modified incisor teeth which are known as tusks, however, only some male Asian elephants have tusks, whilst females (cows) have 'tushes' instead, that are seldom visible (4). Elephants support their stocky body on stout, pillar-like legs, and the nose and upper lip are joined and elongated into a trunk (4). The trunk provides a wide variety of functions from feeding, vocalisation, bathing and fighting; those of the Asian elephant have only a single finger-like process on the base, whilst the African elephant has two (5). The thick, wrinkly skin covering the body is a greyish-brown colour and very dry (6).
- Also known as
- Indian elephant.
- Eléphant D'Asie, Eléphant D'Inde.
- Elefante Asiático.
- Head-body length: 5.5 - 6.4 m (2)
- Shoulder height: 2.5 - 3 m (2)
- Male weight: 5.4 tonnes (2)
- Female weight: 2.7 tonnes (2)
Elephant Information Repository:
WWF’s ‘Extinct’ Campaign: Asian elephant:
Wildlife Conservation Society:
Fauna & Flora International:
WWF – UK:
EDGE of Existence:
- The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
- Site of birth
- A different race of a species, which is geographically separated from other populations of that species.
IUCN Red List (September, 2010)
- Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
CITES (September, 2010)
WWF Threatened Species Accounts (July, 2002)
- Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
Animal Diversity Web (July, 2002)
Fauna and Flora International (September, 2002)
- Maltby, M. (2010) Pers. comm.
WWF Asian Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy (AREAS) (September, 2002)
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
Asian elephant biology
Elephants are highly intelligent and long-lived animals; Asian elephants may live as long as 70 years, in captivity at least (6). They are extremely sociable and occur in groups of related females, led by the oldest female known as the 'matriarch'. Groups of Asian elephants average six to seven individuals, and will occasionally join with other groups to form herds; although these are more transient than those of African savannah elephants (2). Males leave their natal group when then reach sexual maturity at around six to seven years of age, after which time they are predominantly solitary (2). When males reach 20 years old they start coming into 'musth', an extreme state of arousal when levels of testosterone in the blood may increase 20 times (2). This state lasts about three weeks and during this time the individual will become aggressive and wander widely in search of females (2). Musth may cause males to fight for access to females and also increases their attractiveness to females. Cows only reach sexual maturity at ten years of age (7), and the interval between births may be as long as four years owing to the long gestation time and infant dependency (5). The single calf may suckle from other females in the group as well as their own mother (5).
Elephants use their dextrous trunk to pluck at grasses and pass them into their mouths; the average daily intake of food is 150 kilograms of vegetation a day (6). Grasses make up the mainstay of the Asian elephant's diet but scrub and bark are also eaten, and calves may eat their mothers dung to obtain nutrients (2). Consuming such large quantities of vegetation each day mean that Asian elephants substantially alter their ecosystem by creating new habitats for emergent vegetation. They also defecate up to 18 times per day, which has an important role in dispersing the seeds of many plant species (8). Where elephants occur near plantations they will readily feed on banana or rice crops. Asian elephants have had a close relationship with man over the centuries; they are still used to clear timber particularly in some of the more inaccessible forests of the continent, and play an important role in the religious and cultural history of the region (2).Top
Asian elephant range
This species once roamed through much of the Asian Continent south of the Himalayas, extending into China and south to the islands of Sumatra and Borneo (4). The Asian elephant is now restricted to isolated fragments in parts of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Laos People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia and Indonesia, but is now thought to be extinct in Pakistan (1). Three subspecies are currently recognised; in Sri Lanka (Elephas maximus maximus), Sumatra (E. m. sumatranus) and on the mainland of Asia (E. m. indicus) (2). Some scientists also place the Bornean elephant as a separate subspecies (E. m. borneensis) (4).Top
Asian elephant habitat
Asian elephants inhabit a wide range of grasslands and forest types, including scrub forest, rainforest and semi-cultivated forests, preferring areas that combine grass with low woody plants and trees (6).Top
Asian elephant statusTop
Asian elephant threats
Numbers of Asian elephants were decimated by habitat loss and hunting throughout their historical range. Vast tracts of land have been logged or simply cleared to accommodate the growing human population in the region (2). Such disturbance from infrastructure development can also cause increased stress and confusion amongst elephants (8). Elephant populations have become increasingly isolated in the fragmented habitat that remains, often coming into conflict with local farmers (7). Crops are damaged and lives lost; up to 300 people a year are killed by elephants in India (4), leading to retaliation on local elephants (9). Poaching for ivory is also a threat and because only males have tusks, populations can become extremely skewed towards females, thus affecting breeding rates (2).Top
Asian elephant conservation
The Asian elephant is protected from international trade by its listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), although illegal poaching remains a problem (4). Many elephants occur within protected reserves but these are often too small to accommodate them, leading to human-elephant conflict (4). Many elephant populations are also found along international borders where management may be weak, and a lack of trans-boundary cooperation also hinders elephant protection and management (8). The creation of wildlife corridors to extend reserve lands, together with the cessation of poaching are just some of the conservation steps needed to secure the future of the Asian elephant (9). The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) launched the Asian Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy (AREAS) in 1998 to address these issues, and this multifaceted conservation programme is also working with local people to reduce conflict with these magnificent animals (8).Top
Find out more
For further information on the Asian elephant:
Authenticated (13/09/2010) by Matt Maltby, Project Advisor, Cambodian Elephant Conservation Group, Fauna and Flora International.
More »Related species
Play the Team WILD game
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.