The Asian elephant is smaller than the African elephant and has the highest body point on the head. The back is convex or level. The ears are small with dorsal borders folded laterally. It has up to 20 pairs of ribs and 34 caudal vertebrae. The feet have more nail-like structures than those of African elephants — five on each forefoot, and four on each hind foot.
Asian elephants are highly intelligent and self-aware. They have a very large and highly convoluted neocortex, a trait also shared by humans, apes and certain dolphin species. Asian elephants have the greatest volume of cerebral cortex available for cognitive processing of all existing land animals.
Geographic Range and Habitat
Asian elephants inhabit grasslands, tropical evergreen forests, semi-evergreen forests, moist deciduous forests, dry deciduous forests and dry thorn forests, in addition to cultivated and secondary forests and scrublands. Over this range of habitat types elephants are seen from sea level to over 3,000 m (9,800 ft). In the Eastern Himalaya in northeast India, they regularly move up above 3,000 m (9,800 ft) in summer at a few sites.
Three subspecies are recognized:
- the Sri Lankan elephant lives in Sri Lanka;
- the Indian elephant lives in mainland Asia: India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Malay Peninsular, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and China;
- the Sumatran elephant lives in Sumatra and Borneo.
Bulls will fight one another to get access to estrous females. Strong fights over access to females are extremely rare. Bulls reach sexual maturity around the age of 12–15. Between the age of 10 and 20 years, bulls undergo an annual phenomenon known as “musth”. This is a period where the testosterone level is up to 100 times greater than nonmusth periods, and they become extremely aggressive. Secretions containing pheromones occur during this period, from the paired temporal glands located on the head between the lateral edge of the eye and the base of the ear.
The gestation period is 18–22 months, and the female gives birth to one calf, only occasionally twins. The calf is fully developed by the 19th month, but stays in the womb to grow so that it can reach its mother to feed. At birth, the calf weighs about 100 kg (220 lb), and is suckled for up to three years. Once a female gives birth, she usually does not breed again until the first calf is weaned, resulting in a 4– to 5-year birth interval. Females stay on with the herd, but mature males are chased away.
The pre-eminent threats to Asian elephants today are loss, degradation and fragmentation of habitat, leading in turn to increasing conflicts between humans and elephants. They are poached for ivory and a variety of other products including meat and leather.
One of the major instigators of human–wildlife conflict is competition for space. Destruction of forests through logging, encroachment, slash-and-burn, shifting cultivation, and monoculture tree plantations are major threats to the survival of elephants. Human–elephant conflicts occur when elephants raid crops of shifting cultivators in fields, which are scattered over a large area interspersed with forests. Depredation in human settlements is another major area of human–elephant conflict occurring in small forest pockets, encroachments into elephant habitat, and on elephant migration routes.
Elephant General Characteristics
Elephants, along with rhinos, hippos, and other large, thick-skinned mammals, are sometimes referred to as Pachyderms. An elephant’s skin can be 1.5 inches thick , makes up approximately 10% of their body weight, and plays a role in regulating body temperatures. In addition, an elephant’s ears also aid in regulating body temperatures and they are full of blood vessels that act as radiators. As the ears are flapped the resulting breeze cools the blood and helps maintain/lower the body temperature. The ears of the Asian elephant resemble the sub continent of India in shape and are much smaller than the ears of the African elephant.
An elephant uses its trunk for breathing, drinking, eating, communicating, smelling, digging, social interaction, and self defense or defense of its young. The trunk is a combination of the nose and upper lip and can suck between 1 and 2 gallons of water into its trunk and then squirt it into its mouth for a drink or onto its body for a shower. The complex muscular structure of the trunk provides both strength and great dexterity. The elephant’s trunk is made up of thousands of muscles and does not have any bones. The trunk functions as a tool for picking up small objects using a “finger” projection on the end of the trunk, as well as grasping, and social interaction which includes caressing and disciplining their young.
Median Life Expectancy
Female 46.9 years Male insufficient data
Predators & Threats
Zoo: herbivore pellet, hay, produce and browse (edible plants)
Wild: grass, leaves, branches, fruit, vegetables
Elephants have inefficient digestive systems, utilizing less than 50% of the food they eat; therefore they need to consume hundreds of pounds of food daily to support their bulk. They will eat for up to 16 hours a day to meet this demand. Water consumption can vary from 25 to 50 gallons daily. The inefficient digestive system produces massive amounts of manure, which in the wild serves as a transport mechanism for seeds, and a source of food for insects and birds.
Height: 7 to 10 ft. at the crown of the back Weight: 7,000 to 16,000 lbs.
Adaptations & Behavior
Elephants will live in groups of 6 to 15 genetically related individuals lead by a matriarch. These kinship groups will sometimes come together with other groups to form clans, which may in turn come together with groups often distantly related, or at least familiar, to form herds. There are strong ties between a mother and her offspring, which will suckle for 2 to 5 years, but all members of the group participate to varying degrees in the care of the youngster. As males reach adolescence, the matriarch and other members of the group, including the male’s mother, will force them out of the group. Young males often form bachelor groups, but become more solitary as they age. Interaction between adult males and females is usually only for mating. Males do not assist in rearing the young.
Conservation & Population
Single birth of approximately 250 pounds after 18 to 22 month gestation; twins possible, but rare.