The Asian elephant, also known as the Asiatic elephant, is the only existing member of the genus Elephas. This elephant is well distributed throughout southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, from Nepal in the north, Sumatra in the south, India in the west, and to Borneo in the east.
The Asiatic elephant is easy to spot as it plays a significant role in Aidan cultures and religions.
- Lifespan: 48 years (Adult, European population, In captivity)
- Scientific name: Elephas maximus
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Proboscidea
- Conservation status: Endangered (Population decreasing)
- Habitat: Forests across 13 Asian countries
- Current Population Trend: Decreasing
- Population: The present estimated number of Asian elephants left in the wild is 46,282. This is only 10% of the population size of the African elephants.
- Male: 4,000 kg (Adult)
- Female: 2,700 kg (Adult)
- Male: 2.7 m (Adult, At Shoulder)
- Female: 2.2 m (Adult, At Shoulder)
Characteristics of the Asiatic elephant
Female Asiatic elephants and their young ones are known to form small, but highly sociable herds. As the young elephants mature, the males will disassociate for the herds to create their own ‘bachelor’ herd or ‘maljurian’ herds before they eventually live primarily solitary lives.
Visibly shorter and smaller than the African elephants, Asiatic elephants can easily be spotted by their smaller size ears and a rounder or slightly hunched back.
Nevertheless, male Asiatic elephants still have an average weight of about 5,400kg, while the females weighing about half of that. To remain healthy and active, an Asian elephant must consume as much as 100 liters of water and 150kg of plant matter per day.
If they get enough of this daily, an Asiatic elephant’s average natural lifespan is estimated to be around 60-70 years.
Asian elephants are known to be a migratory species. They will following traditional routes, often called corridors to water sources and feeding grounds.
These animals are not naturally aggressive; it is this migratory movement and the need for food that mostly brings them into conflict with humans.
The gestation period of the Asiatic elephant is 22 months, and the females often give birth at least every 2 to 4 years. Baby Asiatic elephants are small giants as they usually weigh 90kg and stand 1m tall.
Unlike their African elephant cousins, Asian elephants feature smaller size tusks and which may even be absent in the females. If a female Asiatic elephant has tusks, they are known as tushes, and can only be spotted when the female elephant opens her mouth.
Some males Asiatic elephants may also be born without tusks, and they are called makhnas. These tuskless male elephants are especially common among the subspecies in Sri Lanka, as below 10% of Sri Lankan male elephants have tusks.
Threats to Asiatic elephants
While Asian elephants, just like the African elephants, are mostly targeted by ivory poachers, these giants also face other crucial threats.
Elephants are no longer safe in Asia as no less than two elephants are killed weekly in India as a result of human-elephant conflict or poaching, and, as a result, their population is fast declining.
A recent Elephant Family investigation revealed that Asian elephants are now being poached for their thick skin, which is a raw material for making certain traditional medicines and jewelry for a predominantly Chinese market.
The elephant skin trade is twice as high and deadly since, because unlike ivory poaching, skin poaching doesn’t have a target population as it targets all elephants: calves, males, and females.
As a slow breeding elephant specie, the loss of breeding Asiatic females and calves is a great threat to the survival of the Asian elephant species. One of the most notable threats to Asia’s elephants is the fast occurring habitat loss.
These elephants share a landscape that is increasingly fragmented by roads, agriculture, and railway lines, with an ever-spreading human population, and this forces them into conflict frequently.
In the first six months of 2018, the killing of 27 elephants was recorded after being hit by trains, and 21 of them were killed by electrocution as a result of contact with low-hanging power lines.
However, It is important to note that it is not only the elephants who suffer; many farmers are often upset and frustrated by elephants who raid their crops. Also, in many parts of India, one person is killed daily by conflict with elephants.
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