Asian Elephant

These elephants are highly significant in the cultures of many of the countries they inhabit, as well as being beasts of burden.

The Asian elephant is one of the world’s largest land animals, second only to its close relative, the African elephant. These elephants are the largest terrestrial mammals in Asia. While it has proved easier to domesticate Asian elephants than their African relatives, this has not protected them against being hunted for their ivory and as a source of meat. Clearance of large tracts of their forest environment has also had an adverse impact on the numbers of Asian elephants. Asian elephants live in small groups of 15 - 40 individuals, consisting of related females and their young, led by old matriarchs - head females.

Asian elephants can be distinguished from their African cousins by their smaller ears, sloping backs and by having only one rather than two projections on their trunks.

Asian elephants are intelligent animals, and they have been reported to be able to use tools. For example, they sometimes use sticks held in their trunk to scratch themselves or to swat insects. They have been domesticated for many thousands of years and have been used as draught and war animals up to modern times. However, the Asian elephant can be an agricultural pest, eating up to 150 kg (330 lb) of crops per day.

Distribution: Extends across much of southern Asia, from parts of India and Sri Lanka eastwards, across to China and south to islands including Sumatra and Borneo.

Habitat: Tropical forest, open woodland and grassland.

Weight: 3000 - 5000 kg  (6600 - 11,000 lb).

Length: 6.5 - 7.7 m (21 - 25 ft); stands up to 3 m (9.8 ft) tall at the shoulder.

Maturity: Around 14 years.

Gestation Period: 17 - 23 months.

Breeding: 1; weaning occurs by 4 years.

Diet: Plant matter, eating up to 150 kg (331 lb) of grasses and leaves a day.

Lifespan: Probably up to 70 years.

Status: Endangered.

Skin

Tough and greyish-brown in colour, with a scattering of stiff dark hair.

Ears

The ears are small, helping to distinguish Asian elephants from their African relatives.

Tusks

Only males, called bulls, may have tusks. These modified incisor teeth can grow to about 1.5 m (5 ft).

Feet

The feet are large and circular, with four nails on the hind feet.

DIVING DEEPER

Asian elephants can swim well, and use their trunk rather like a snorkel to allow them to breathe underwater.

Gallery of Asian Elephant