Asian Elephant

The Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus), also known as the Asiatic Elephant, is found in India and Southeast Asia. It is the largest land mammal in Asia,

The genus Elephas originated from Africa before expanding into Southern Asia. Of all the species of the genus, only the Asiatic Elephant is alive today.

This article will further give details about the Asiatic Elephant within the context of the IAS Exam.

Characteristics of the Asiatic Elephant

Compared to the African bush elephant, the Asiatic Elephant is smaller by comparison with convex back. Its small ears have a laterally folded dorsal border. The feet have more nail like structure than the African elephant with five on each food on four in the hind foot. The forehead consists of a hemispherical bulges, as opposed to the flat front of an African elephant

The trunk is an extension of the nose and upper lip, containing abou 60,000 muscles with longitudinal and radiating sets.

The tusks are usually absent in females, but more prominent in males.

Asian elephants have a large and well developed neocortex, something which is found in humans, apes and a few dolphin species. The presence of a greater volume of cerebral cortex available for cognitive processing is greater than all land animals. The Asian elephant exhibits a wide variety of emotions and behaviors including compassion, cooperation ,self-awareness, and language.

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To know more about Biodiversity in general, visit the linked article.

Further characteristics of the Asiatic Elephant is given in the table below:

Characteristics of the Asiatic Elephants

Height Males: 9.0 ft

Females: 7.9 ft

Weight Males: 4.4 short tons

Females: 3.0 short tons

Body length 5.5–6.5 m
Tail Length 1.2–1.5 m long.
Habitat India, Nepal, Bangladesh, China, Laos, Malay, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam, Sumatra, Sri Lanka

Sub-species of the Asian Elephant

There are three recognised subspecies of the Asian Elephant. They are as follows

  1. Sri Lankan Elephant (Elephas maximus maximus)
  2. Indian Elephant (Elephas maximus indicus)
  3. Sumatran Elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus)

The Indian Elephant is found in the following states

  1. Uttarakhand,
  2. Uttar Pradesh
  3. West Bengal
  4. Western Assam
  5. Arunachal Pradesh
  6. Odisha
  7. Jharkhand
  8. Southern part of West Bengal
  9. Karnataka
  10. Tamil Nadu
  11. Kerala

Some of the largest elephant reserves in India are located in Periyar and Nilambur in Kerala and the Shivalik in Uttarakhand.

Asiatic Lion - UPSC Environment and Ecology

To know more about the other elephant reserves in India, visit the linked article.

Behaviour and Feeding Habits of the Asiatic Elephant

The Asian Elephants are active during twilight hours and are known for their huge consumption (about 150 kg per day) of plant matter. They feed on at least 112 different species of plants such as legumes, palm and true grass. During the dry season tree barks also form a major part of their diet. The Asian elephant consumes at least 80 – 200 litres of water a day and even more for washing themselves, hence they are never far from a ready water source

Adult females and calves move together as groups while males disperse on their own when reaching adolescence. When old enough they form a temporary group of their own with other male elephants.

The Asiatic elephant has few predators but there have been rare instances where tigers have been known to kill young calves who strayed far from the herd or where orphaned. There were two recorded instances of tigers killing adult elephants. One was in 2011 when a 20-year old elephant was killed by a single tiger in Jim Corbett National Park (established on August 8 1936) and the other in 2014 in Kaziranga National Park when a 28-year old elephant was taken down by several coordinated attacks from a group of tigers.

For notes on UPSC Environment and Ecology, visit the linked article.

Conservation Status of the Asian Elephant

The Asian elephant has been listed as ‘Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List since 1986 as the elephant population has declined over the last 60-55 years. In 2019 it was estimated that at least 48,323 – 51,680 individuals. A high death rate and low birth rate is further decreasing the population.

Major threats to the elephant population is as follows:

  • Human-Elephant conflicts is one of the prime factor as deforestation, human encroachment, and retaliation for crop destruction by elephants
  • Illegal poaching for elephant skins and tusks. The demands for elephant skin has risen considerably as they are an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine
  • Abusive handling methods when young calves that are illegally captured for the tourism industry are beate, starved, tortured to ‘break them’. About two-thirds of them perish.

Many conservation projects in Asia have been in full force to protect the remaining populations of the Asian elephant. In India Project Elephant was initiated by the Government of Indian in 1992 to provide financial and technical support for the preservation of the wild elephants in India. The project helps in ensuring long-term survival of the species through managing elephant habitats, striving to remove poaching or outrightly prevent it.

Creating awareness about the importance of conservation among people and providing improved healthcare for captured elephants. The elephant population in India stands somewhere between 27,785 – 31,368 as of 2019.

Frequently Asked Questions on Asian Elephant

Q 1. Why is the population of Asian Elephant decreasing?

Ans. Urbanisation is one of the key reasons why the population of Asian Elephants is decreasing. For industrial purposes, animal habitats are shrinking and causing a threat to their existence. The increase in the human population is a great threat to the Asian Elephants’ habitat.

Q 2. What are the physical attributes of Asian elephants?

Ans. The scientific name of Asian Elephant is Elephas maximus indicus and they weigh around 11, 000 pounds with a height varying between 6.5 to 11.5 feet. As per WWF, the Asian Elephant population is lesser than 50,000.

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