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Asian Elephant Fact File

Appearance

The Asian elephant is the smaller member of the elephant family when compared to the African elephant. A range of differences differentiate the two species. These include the Asian elephant having smaller ears, males having smaller tusks and females not having tusks which extend past the lip and a different shaped tip of the trunk. Asian elephants have a single finger-like growth (called a process) on the top side of the trunk while African elephants have one on both the top and bottom.

One of the most iconic features of the elephant is the trunk which is an elongation of the upper lip and nose. It can act as a fifth limb to help grab food, lift items and spray water or dirt. This trunk includes 150,000 muscles to provide precision in the movements.

Males Asian elephants have visible tusks. These are the upper incisors and are formed from ivory. They are colored white and are curved. In females the tusk does not protrude past the lip. The tusks continually grow for the elephants life.

Their large ears are shaped like a fan and are moved back and forth to help cool the blood running through the network of blood vessels contained within.

An Asian elephants body is covered with thick, wrinkled grey skin which has small hairs across it. Young elephants have more hair and this will decrease as they age. Parts of the body have de-pigmentation which makes it appear pink. This is most common around the head, ears and trunk.

They are the largest land animal in Asia with males being larger than females. An individual can weigh between 2,700 and 5,000 kg (6,000–11,000 lbs.). They measure 2-3.6m (6.5-12ft).

Diet

Asian elephants are herbivores. They may consume up to 150kg (330lbs) of food each day. Their diet includes grass, roots, bark, fruit, legumes, seeds, grain and palms. Over 100 species of plants make up their diet.

In human inhabited areas they can come in to conflict as a result of eating cultivated crops such as bananas.

To drink they will suck up water in the trunk and then spray this in to their mouth.

asian elephant

Scientific Name

Elephas maximus

Conservation Status

Endangered

Weight

2,700 to 5,000 kg (6,000–11,000 lbs.)

Length

2-3.6m (6.5-12ft)

Lifespan

60-70 years

Record 86 years

Diet

Herbivorous

Range

Asia is the native home of the Asian elephant. Here they can be found throughout Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam.

The species has gone extinct in Pakistan.

Habitat

They make their home in a wide range of habitats. These include grassland, tropical evergreen forest, deciduous forest, scrublands and dry thorn forest.

An Asian elephant will maintain a large home range. The size of the home range is highly variable depending on the number of elephants in the herd and the availability and quality of food in the area.

asian elephant

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Reproduction

Elephant calves may be born year round. Females come in to estrus every 115 days and this will last for 3-7 days.

Males undergo a period called musth during this period they are highly aggressive towards other males and they appear more attractive to females. During this time the testes are enlarged. Prior to this they will eat more food as they need to be in good condition.

Asian elephants have the longest gestation of any mammal. After a successful mating the calf will develop for 22 months before it is born. Females will give birth to a single calf though twins have occurred on rare occasions. At birth the calf weighs 68-158kg (150-350lbs).

Soon after birth the calf is standing. They have their first taste of solid food around 6 months old. Young will eat their mothers dung to gain the gut bacteria needed to digest cellulose. Suckling will continue regularly till 2 years old and intermittently till 4 years old.

Calves remain close to the mother and when threatened call for assistance from the herd.

Asian elephants alloparent meaning that other females within the herd will assist with raising the calf.

Females remain with their mother in the natal herd while males will leave between 6 and 7 years old to live on their own.

Males reach sexual maturity between 10 and 14 years old while females reach this earlier at 8 to 9 years old.

Behavior

Asian elephants will spend up to 16 hours a day grazing. This typically takes place across three periods of activity in the morning, afternoon and night. During the heat of the day they will rest.

Female Asian elephants live in a herd led by a dominant female (the matriarch). It includes a number of females and their calves. Female calves remain with the herd they were born in. Males are solitary or form a small herd with other males.

Communication can take place either through sounds such as snorts, barks and roars along with a low rumble which can travel long distances. The trunk is used to communicate through touch.

Elephants are an important part of their habitat. The trails they create through the forest provide paths for other animals. They also tear down trees while eating and this creates clearings where new trees can grow.

Asian elephants are successful swimmers due to their ability to fully submerge with the trunk out of the water so they can breed. This can be used to cool them down.

They will also cool down by flapping their ears.

asian elephant

Predators and Threats

Young elephants may face predation from Bengal tigers. Adults are so large and have tusks to defend themselves meaning there is little threat to them.

The main threat presented by humans to the Asian elephant are habitat loss, destruction and fragmentation. A major problem is human-elephant conflict which often leads to elephants being killed. This loss of habitat is especially problematic due to the large areas of habitat elephants require.

Another threat is presented by poaching including for the ivory in their tusks. This is not as large a threat to Asian elephants as it is for African elephants due to only males having tusks. Hunting may also occur for the bushmeat trade.

Asian elephants may also be removed from the wild so that they can be used in logging operations or traditional ceremonies.

Quick facts

Around 1/3 of Asian elephants on Earth live in human care.

Asian elephants have been used for a range of purposes over the years including in war, logging and tourism.

As a result of their large brain it is believed that Asian elephants are highly intelligent.

Four subspecies of the Asian elephant are recognized. These are the Malaysian, Sumatran, Indian and Sri Lankan elephants.

Elephants will break off a branch and use this to swat flies away.

Over their life an Asian elephant can go through six sets of teeth.

Photo Gallery

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Photo Credits

Under license.

References

Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Ambrose, J., 2015. Wildlife Of The World. 1st ed. London: Dorling Kindersley, p.258-259.

Oregon Zoo, 2020, Asian Elephant, [Online], Available at: https://www.oregonzoo.org/discover/animals/asian-elephant, Downloaded on September 7th 2020

Seaworld.org. 2020. Asian Elephant Facts And Information | Seaworld Parks & Entertainment. [online] Available at: <https://seaworld.org/animals/facts/mammals/asian-elephant/> [Accessed 7 September 2020].

Choudhury, A., Lahiri Choudhury, D.K., Desai, A., Duckworth, J.W., Easa, P.S., Johnsingh, A.J.T., Fernando, P., Hedges, S., Gunawardena, M., Kurt, F., Karanth, U., Lister, A., Menon, V., Riddle, H., Rübel, A. & Wikramanayake, E. (IUCN SSC Asian Elephant Specialist Group). 2008. Elephas maximus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T7140A12828813. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2008.RLTS.T7140A12828813.en. Downloaded on 07 September 2020.

Karkala, N. 2016. "Elephas maximus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed September 07, 2020 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Elephas_maximus/

Smithsonian's National Zoo. 2020. Asian Elephant. [online] Available at: <https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/asian-elephant> [Accessed 7 September 2020].

Nationalgeographic.com. 2020. Asian Elephant | National Geographic. [online] Available at: <https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/a/asian-elephant/> [Accessed 7 September 2020].

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