Animal Info - Asian Elephant

(Other Names: 亚洲象, インドゾウ, Asiatischer Elefant, Elefante Asiático, Eléphant d'Asie, Eléphant d'Inde, Indian or Asiatic Elephant)

Elephas maximus

Status: Endangered


Contents

1. Profile (Picture)
2. Tidbits
3. Status and Trends (IUCN Status, Countries Where Currently Found, Population Estimates, History of Distribution, Threats and Reasons for Decline)
4. Data on Biology and Ecology (Weight, Habitat, Age to Maturity, Gestation Period, Birth Rate, Early Development, Dispersal, Maximum Reproductive Age, Maximum Age, Diet, Social Organization, Mortality and Survival, Minimum Viable Population)
5. References


Profile

Pictures: Asian Elephant #1 (58 Kb JPEG) (Czech Web Site); Asian Elephant #2 (82 Kb GIF) (The Wild Ones) 

The Asian elephant can weigh up to 5400 kg (11,900 lb). It currently occupies forested habitats in hilly or mountainous terrain, up to about 3600 m (11,800'). An adult eats approximately 150 kg (330 lb) per day - mainly grasses but also leaves, twigs and bark. It feeds during the morning, evening and night and rests during the middle of the day, requiring shade during the hot season to keep from overheating. Elephants cannot go for long without water (they require 70-90 liters (19-24 gal) of fluid/day) and sometimes must travel long distances each day between their water supplies and feeding areas.

One calf is born every 3-4 years after a pregnancy lasting about 22 months. Although mature male elephants may live alone, females live in family groups consisting of mothers, daughters and sisters, together with immature males. Wild elephants can live to be sixty years old.

The Asian elephant once ranged from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in ancient Mesopotamia in the west, east through Asia south of the Himalaya to Indochina and the Malay Peninsula, including Sri Lanka and Sumatra and possibly Java, and north into China at least as far as the Yangtze River. In the 19th century it was still common over much of the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka and the eastern parts of its range. By 1978, Asian elephants were found in the same countries as they are at present.

Technological advances, together with other factors associated with colonialism, led in most countries to a drastic crash in elephant numbers during the 19th century. (Olivier 1978) "With the spread of civilization and growth of population, the area under cultivation for the production of food has rapidly extended during recent decades. Consequently the former feeding-grounds of wild elephants have diminished,..." (Gee 1950) After the introduction of firearms to Sri Lanka around 1950, cultivators killed more than 300 elephants in seven years to protect their crops. (Morgan-Davies 1958)

Female Asian elephants are not affected by ivory poaching (due to their lack of tusks), so poaching has not affected the overall population numbers of Asian elephants as drastically as it has in the case of the African elephant. The single most important cause of the decline of the Asian elephant has been the loss of habitat. They have also been affected by persecution due to the crop damage they are perceived to cause.


Tidbits

*** The Asian elephant has been domesticated for centuries; it is intelligent and docile when well treated.

*** In 1879, India passed the Elephants' Preservation Act. This act decreed that no wild elephant shall be killed or captured unless in a person's self-defense, or because of damage being caused. The basis for this law was the importance of the service elephants provided to mankind.

*** "The valuable stock of wild elephants must not be allowed to shrink below a specified danger-level; for it seems to be a law of nature that should any wild animal or bird become increasingly rare, it eventually becomes extinct..." (Gee 1950)

*** The Asian elephant is distinguished from the African elephant in that the Asian elephant has considerably smaller ears, the forehead is flat and the top of the head is the highest point of the animal. In the African elephant, the ears are large, the forehead is more convex, and the back more sloping, so the shoulders are the highest point. Both sexes of the African elephant have tusks, while female Asian elephants do not have tusks.

*** Elephants respond favorably to slash-and-burn agriculture, selective logging, and bamboo extraction, if these are done at a sustained-yield level, because early successional forest is maintained. Consequently, elephant management is compatible with long-term multiple use of forests. (Humphrey & Bain 1990)

*** The existence of a race of "giant" elephants, about 0.3 m (1') taller than other Asian elephants, has been confirmed in the forests of northern Nepal. As few as 100 of these elephants, which may be a subspecies of Elephas maximus, may survive. (Oryx 1997)


Status and Trends

IUCN Status:

Countries Where the Asian Elephant Is Currently Found:

2004: Occurs in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam. (IUCN 2004)

Population Estimates:

[Note: Figures given are for wild populations only.]

History of Distribution:

The species once ranged from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in ancient Mesopotamia (45 deg East) in the west, east through Asia south of the Himalaya to Indochina and the Malay Peninsula, including Sri Lanka and Sumatra and possibly Java, and north into China at least as far as the Yangtze River (30 deg North). In the 19th century it was still common over much of the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka and the eastern parts of its range. By 1978, Asian elephants were found in the same countries as they are at present.

Distribution Map #1 (4 Kb GIF) (The Wild Ones) (Countries where the Asian elephant occurs)
Distribution Map #2 (3 Kb GIF) (Yokohama Zoo) (Specific areas where the Asian elephant occurs)

Threats and Reasons for Decline:

With the advent of colonial regimes from Europe, the elephant was put under pressure in areas which were otherwise unlikely to have been developed at that time. Thus technological advances, together with other factors associated with colonial aims and attitudes, led in most countries to a drastic crash in elephant numbers during the 19th century. (Olivier 1978) "With the spread of civilization and growth of population, the area under cultivation for the production of food has rapidly extended during recent decades. Consequently the former feeding-grounds of wild elephants have diminished,..." (Gee 1950) After the introduction of firearms to Sri Lanka around 1950, cultivators killed more than 300 elephants in seven years to protect their crops. (Morgan-Davies 1958) "Habitats were lost owing to drainage and deforestation measures and populations also declined as the elephants were hunted, shot or captured." (Schumacher 1967)

Female Asian elephants are not affected by ivory poaching (due to their lack of tusks), so poaching has not affected the overall population numbers of Asian elephants as drastically as it has in the case of the African elephant. However, the poaching of males in some Asian elephant populations has resulted in a highly skewed male:female ratio which can have serious demographic and genetic consequences. (Sukumar et al. 1998) The single most important cause of the decline of the Asian elephant has been the loss of habitat. (Sukumar 1990) Through the 1970's, elephant populations continued to undergo habitat encroachment and fragmentation, and in the planning stages of development programs little consideration was given to elephants or other wildlife. (Olivier 1978) In summary, reasons for decline include persecution of wild elephants due to the crop damage they are perceived to cause, hunting (mainly for ivory but also for meat) and habitat loss due to expanding human population and the loss of forests in Asia.


Data on Biology and Ecology

Weight:

Females average 2720 kg (5980 lb). Large bulls weigh 5400 kg (11,900 lb) (Nowak 1999).

Habitat:

The Asian elephant currently occupies forested habitats in hilly or mountainous terrain, up to about 3600 m (11,800'). It is adaptable and can occur in a wide range of habitats, from thick jungles to grassy plains.

The Asian elephant lives in both the Himalaya, Indo-Burma, Mountains of Southwest China, Sundaland and Western Ghats and Sri Lanka Biodiversity Hotspots (Cons. Intl. 2005) as well as the Peninsular Malaysian Lowland & Montane Forests, Northern Indochina Subtropical Moist Forests, Sri Lankan Moist Forests, Kayah-Karan/Tenasserim Moist Forests, Western Ghats Moist Forests, Annamite Range Moist Forests, Eastern Indochina Dry & Monsoon Forests, and Eastern Indian Monsoon Forests Global 200 Ecoregions. (Olson & Dinerstein 1998, Olson & Dinerstein 1999)

Age to Maturity:

Female Asian elephants attain sexual maturity when 9-12 years old. Males are capable of reproduction at 10-17 years, but they are still too young to dominate older females and do not significantly contribute to reproduction. Sexual maturity may be delayed for several years during drought or periods of high population density.

Gestation Period:

Approximately 22 months.

Birth Rate:

One calf is born at a time. A female may produce a calf every 3 - 4 years, although this period may be extended when conditions are unfavorable for survival, such as during drought.

Fecundity: Age 0 - 15: 0.0 (births/female/year); age 16 - 50: 0.225 (births/female/year); age 51 - 60: 0.20 (births/female/year) (Sukumar et al. 1998).

Early Development:

There is a long period of juvenile dependency. The infant suckles for 3 - 4 years.

Dispersal:

Young males appear to leave the family group and become solitary at about the time they become sexually mature.

Maximum Reproductive Age:

The period of greatest female fecundity is between 25-45 years.

Maximum Age:

Sixty years in the wild (more than 80 years in captivity).

Diet:

The Asian elephant eats grasses and small amounts of leaves, woody parts of trees and shrubs - twigs, branches and bark. Cultivated crops, such as bananas, paddy and sugar cane are also preferred, with the result that the elephant often becomes a pest in agricultural regions. It will also eat large quantities of flowers and fruits when these are available and will dig for roots, including bamboo.

Social Organization:

The Asian elephant is gregarious, and, although males sometimes live alone, females are always found in family groups consisting of mothers, daughters, sisters and immature males. In the 19th century, these family groups usually consisted of 30 - 50 animals, but much larger groups, as large as 100 individuals, were not uncommon. Sometimes an adult male can be associated with a herd. When not, adult males usually remain solitary and disperse over relatively small, widely overlapping home ranges; sometimes they gather together in small but temporary bull herds. They do not seem to be territorial, and there is a great amount of toleration between them, except possibly when the cows are in estrus.

Mortality and Survival:

Female mortality by age class:  <1 year: 0.10; 1 - 5 years: 0.04; 6 - 15 years: 0.015; 16 - 20 years: 0.03: 21 - 50 years: 0.015; 51 - 60 years: 0.10.  Male 'natural' (i.e. unpoached) mortality by age class: <1 year: 0.15; 1 - 5 years: 0.06; 6 - 50 years: 0.08; 51 - 60 years: 0.15. (Sukumar et al. 1998)

Minimum Viable Population:

Estimated Minimum Viable Population Density: 0.31 individuals/sq km (0.8 individuals/sq mi). (Silva & Downing 1994)


References

Anon. 1995h, Anon. 1995i, Arkive, Burton & Pearson 1987, Chadwick 1991, Cons. Intl. 2005, Corea 2000, Czech Web Site, Fauna & Flora 2002, Fauna & Flora News, Focus 1997e, Focus 2005, Gee 1950, Gee 1964, Gittins & Akonda 1982, Humphrey & Bain 1990, IUCN 1966, IUCN 1994, IUCN 1996, IUCN 2000, IUCN 2003a, IUCN 2004, Macdonald 1984, Martin & Vigne 1997, Morgan-Davies 1958, Nowak 1999, Nowak & Paradiso 1983, Nyhus et al. 2000, Olivier 1978, Olson & Dinerstein 1998, Olson & Dinerstein 1999, Oryx 1969, Oryx 1969b, Oryx 1974, Oryx 1977, Oryx 1978, Oryx 1980b, Oryx 1983, Oryx 1991b, Oryx 1991c, Oryx 1992c, Oryx 1996b, Oryx 1997, Santiapillai et al. 1999, Schumacher 1967, Silva & Downing 1994, Sukumar 1990, Sukumar et al. 1998, The Wild Ones, Xiang & Santiapillai 1993, Yokohama Zoo, Zoogoer 2003


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