Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus)

Interesting :

Male Asian elephant has ivory, which is called “male elephant – chang ply”. Some males have no ivory, which is called “male elephant without ivory – chang sido”. Normally, female Asian elephant does not have ivory, which is called “female elephant – chang pang”. However, it may have short ivory called “small ivory – kanai”. It is a single stomach animal. It has 26 teeth. Its ivory is the cut tooth that is changed. Its nose is its long trunk. It has arched back like a dome. Its front feet have 5 nails, while its back feet have only 4 nails. It has lump at its trunk.

Habitat :

Asian elephant is found in Nepal, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Sumatra. HABITAT AND ECOLOGY The Asian Elephant is one of the last few mega-herbivores (i.e. plant-eating mammals that reach an adult body weight in excess of 1,000 kg) still extant on earth (Owen-Smith, 1988). Being hindgut fermenters with relatively poor digestive efficiency (Dumonceaux 2006), elephants must consume large quantities of food per day to meet energy requirements. They are generalists and feed on a variety of plants, which vary depending upon the habitat and season. Sukumar (1992) observed that in southern India, the portion of the diet consisting of browse shifted from around 70% in the dry season, to 45% in the wet season. However, in an adjoining area, Baskaran et al. (2010) found that browse formed only 15% of the diet in dry deciduous forest and 47% of the diet in the thorn forest in the dry season, while the annual diet was dominated by grass (84%). Baskaran (2002) also recorded that elephants fed on 82 species of plants (59 woody plant species and 23 grass species). In Sri Lanka, elephants may feed on more than 60 species of plants belonging to 30 families (McKay 1973). On the other hand, elephants appear to preferentially feed on monocots (Campos-Arceiz and Blake 2011), with Bornean elephants especially favoring species of Poaceae (English et al. 2014). Elephants may spend up to 14–19 hrs a day feeding, during which they may consume up to 150 kg of wet weight (Vancuylenberg 1977). Asian Elephants inhabit grassland, tropical evergreen forest, semi-evergreen forest, moist deciduous forest, dry deciduous forested and dry thorn forest, in addition to cultivated and secondary forests or scrublands. They are seen from sea level to over 3,000 m asl in the Eastern Himalaya (Choudhury 1999). However, it is unclear which, if any, of these habitat types represent optimal suitable habitat for elephant as many landscapes have been subject to human modification. Elephant densities can range from > 3/km2 in parts of India, Sri Lanka, and Borneo, to fewer than <1/km2 in much of mainland Southeast Asia (Alfred et al. 2010; de Silva, Ranjeewa and Weerakoon 2011; Fernando and Pastorini 2011; Jathanna et al. 2015). Recorded densities appear lower in heavily forested environments compared to those that are more grass-dominated, but it is difficult to distinguish whether this is due to resource limitations or more recent declines from hunting pressure and overall habitat loss. Elephants can range over large areas and as a consequence, elephants disperse seeds over longer distances than most other herbivores and thus are responsible for structuring and maintaining plant diversity within ecosystems (Campos-Arceiz et al. 2008 Campos-Arceiz and Blake 2011). Home range sizes likely depend not only on availability of forage, but also of water, needed for drinking, bathing and wallowing. More recently home ranges are being influenced by the level of disturbance and other development activities (e.g. roads, fences, canals etc.) the elephants are encountering. Asian Elephants especially rely on the evaporation of water from the skin for cooling (Dunkin et al. 2013). Given their large area requirements, elephants are regarded as “umbrella species” because their conservation will also protect a large number of other species occupying the same area. They may also be considered “flagship species” because of their iconic or cultural value and “keystone species” because of their important ecological role and impact on the environment. The lifespan of Asian Elephants is 60 to 70 years, and males reach sexual maturity at between 10–15 years of age; while females are capable of giving birth as early as 11, most do so in the wild between the ages of 13–16 (Shoshani and Eisenberg 1982, de Silva et al. 2013). Because of the lengthy gestation and parturition periods elephants have a minimum inter-birth-interval of approximately four-five years (Sukumar 2003), but in areas where there is a high density, intervals may extend to six years or more (Sukumar 1992, Williams 2007, de Silva et al. 2013). Calf survival can be influenced by social buffering, particularly from grandmothers (Lahdenpera et al. 2016), which makes Asian elephants one of the unique social species. Older females tend to have longer birth intervals, thus aging populations may experience negative feedback on population growth. Therefore, even though individual animals may be long-lived, populations are vulnerable to gradual demographic collapse if mortality rates in younger age classes become too high (de Silva and Leimgruber 2019). Asian Elephant society is organised into well-defined, matrilineal communities or clans comprising adult females, as well as sub-adult and juvenile males and females (de Silva et al. 2011b, Nandini et al. 2018). All the members of the clan do not necessarily associate for extended periods as it is a society with high fission-fusion dynamics, with groups of elephants seen usually being a part of a larger community/clan (de Silva et al. 2011b, Nandini et al. 2018). Subadult males disperse from their natal clans, and adult males (bulls) are primarily solitary but form loose social bonds with other males and only temporarily associate with female groups (Desai and Johnsingh 1995, Vidya and Sukumar 2005). Females or subsets of them within a clan are genetically related to one another (Vidya and Sukumar 2005, Nandini 2016). Asian Elephants move over long distances in search of food and shelter. Both females and males have well-defined home ranges and show fidelity to their established home ranges (Baskaran et al. 1995, Fernando et al. 2008, Baskaran et al. 2018). Home range sizes in India have been estimated to be between 550 and 700 km² for female clans in tropical deciduous forests of south India (Baskaran et al. 1995) and between 188 and 407 km² for different males and female clans in north India (Williams et al. 2008). In Sri Lanka home range sizes have been estimated to be between 34 and 400 km² in a study of males and female groups by Fernando et al. (2008) and in another study of two female groups, it was estimated to be 217 and 326 km² (Marasinghe et al. 2015). In Sumatra, a study by Moßbrucker et al. (2016) showed that home range sizes of males and female groups ranged between 210 and 997 km for elephants in Jambi Province. In Borneo, a study by Raymond et al.²(2012) showed that home ranges of males and female groups ranged from 291 to 778 km² for three elephants which had reasonable monitoring periods (>200 days). Evans et al. (2020) however indicated a mean home range of 149.27 (±108.70) km². The linear extent of home ranges can vary from 10 to 150 km or more depending on the size of the home range. This would indicate that transboundary populations can range deep into the different Range States. Overlapping and large home ranges would essentially straddle vast areas across national boundaries. Movement within home ranges has been shown to be influenced by seasonal changes in resources (Fernando 2015, Baskaran et al. 2018) or behavioural changes due to disturbance (Williams et al. 2008). Those seasonal movements, that are influenced by availability of food, water and climate, are both cyclic and predictable. However, in Rajaji NP in north India, Williams et al. (2008) showed that females with very young calves traded safety for food by choosing habitats with less food, but also less disturbance. Elephants also preferred gentle terrain over steeper slopes when given a choice as shown by Raymond et al. (2012). This indicates that elephants found in very hilly terrain maybe a by product of more productive plains habitat being converted to agriculture. A recent study from the resource-rich, well-protected ecosystem of Kaziranga NP in NE India, suggests that female-led herds move about their activity centres considerably more than adult males (Goswami et al. 2019). In such productive habitats, spatio-temporal segregation of herds is likely to be favored as it can ease intra-specific competition and allow an ‘ecological release’ from strict matriarchal hierarchies, resulting in fission-fusion social dynamics (de Silva et al. 2011b, de Silva et al. 2016). Larger gatherings of elephants tend to occur in South Asia during dry seasons, particularly near large water bodies (de Silva et al. 2011b, Nandini et al. 2018). This is possibly a more recent phenomenon owing to land-use changes and resource constraints. It is also concurrently possible that movement patterns of adult males are more localized in a given season, but they show larger shifts in activity centres than herds with change in season and associated resource availability (Goswami et al. 2019). Musth in males appears to be a roving strategy among older males (Keerthipriya et al. 2020), which show much larger home ranges in musth than when not in musth (Fernando et al. 2008). A characteristic strategy of male Asian Elephants is the dispersal of males when they attain puberty (Sukumar 1989, Desai and Johnsingh 1995). Male Asian Elephants have been found to show locational dispersal to a location different from their natal home range, as opposed to social dispersal away from the natal clan but remaining in the same home range (Vidya and Sukumar 2005, Vidya et al. 2005, Ahlering et al. 2011). It is possible that such dispersal may help in avoiding inbreeding and is critical for gene flow between different locations.

Food :

It eats grasses, leafs, young bamboo shoots. Its most favorites are young bamboo trees and leafs. In dry season, it likes to eat banana leafs and stalks

Behavior :

It normally lives in herd. The leader in herd is female elephant. It, mostly, makes a living during nighttime. The leader leads its herd for making a living, finding water sources, and escaping from enemies. Elephant normally eats a lot. If it awakes, it eats almost all the time. Elephant in the same herd likes to do the same things at the same time. For example, when it is a time to make a living, it will go to find foods at the same time. And once it stops, it will stop at the same time. It stands when sleeping. However, sometimes, it sleeps on one side.

Current Status :

CONSERVATION ACTIONS The key conservation priorities for the Asian Elephant are: conservation of the elephant's habitat and maintaining habitat connectivity by securing corridors; the management of human-elephant conflict as part of an integrated, landscape-scale land-use policy; better protection to the species through improved legislation and law enforcement, improved and enhanced field patrolling, and regulating/curbing trade in ivory, live elephants and other elephant products. Monitoring of conservation interventions is also needed to assess the success or failure of the interventions so that adjustments can be made as necessary (i.e. adaptive management). Reliable estimation of population size and trends will be needed as part of this monitoring and adaptive management approach. This species is listed on CITES Appendix I.

Other :

The threats to Asian Elephants are increased poaching & illegal ivory trade, human-elephant conflict, loss of natural habitat, climate change, etc.


CLASS : Mammalia

ORDER : Proboscidea

FAMILY : Elephantidae

GENUS : Elephas

SPECIES : Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus)

SUBSPECIES : Elephas maximus indicus

Conservation status : ENDERGERED

Age :

It can live up to 70 years.

Reproductive :

It is mature and ready for mating at the age of 8 – 12 years. Gestation period is around 19 – 21 months. One litter contains only one young.

Size and weight :

Its body skin is thick around 1.9 – 3.2 centimeters.Its weight is around 3 – 4 tons.

Reference :

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Point of view :

Update : 11 April 2017