THE LARGEST LAND-DWELLING ANIMAL IN ASIA, this elephant is an impressive and intelligent giant. It spends its time ambling through forests in small herds, searching for fresh pastures to satisfy its purely vegetarian diet. Not as large as its African cousins, and with smaller ears, the Asian or Indian elephant was once common throughout the continent. It is now confined to a few areas in South and Southeast Asia. This elephant has a long association with humans and has been used for logging and transport.
The Asian elephant is in danger of extinction in the wild. It inhabits the world's most densely populated regions where human numbers are rising. As forests have been cleared for farming, so elephant have lost their habitat and traditional migration routes. They have begun raiding crops, leading to conflicts with farmers and, in turn, to political pressure to eliminate them near populated areas. Elephants are also illegally poached for ivory and meat. There are numerous conversation projects throughtout Asia, monitoring elephant populations, illegal trade, and also trying to minimize conflict between them and the local people. In Thailand, where logging has been banned, numerous domesticated elephants with their mashouts (keepers) have taken to begging on the streets; many starve.
Asian elephants live in herds of between three and 40 females and their young; older males are solitary, while younger ones join bachelor groups. An elderly female, or matriarch, is responsible for the safety of the herd and, each day, leads it to fresh pastures and water. Elephants don't appear to have sweat glands, so must bathe, roll in mud or blow dust over themselves to cool down. Communication is by touch, sight, scent and sound; elephants make a wide variety of noises, ranging from squeaks to loud, trumpeting calls. They greet each other by entwining their trunks and sniffing, and will reassure a frightened elephant by stroking it. Excellent swimmers, they sometimes swim or walk underwater using their trunks as snorkels.
A newborn is hairy with a short trunk and staggers to its feet within half-an-hour. Letting its trunk flop backwards on to its head, it uses its mouth to suckle from nipples between its mother's front legs. Young elephants grow fast and are very curious. As they gain confidence, they paly with other youngsters in the herd. Females in a herd often give birth at around the same time and care for the young together. While the calves are small, the herd travels slowly, the young holding on to their mother's tail with their trunk. Although infants nurse for 18 months, they start to eat grass once they are a few month old. They also eat their mother's dung which contains nutrients, as well as bacteria that aid cellulose digestion.
Using its long trunk and small tusks, the Asian elephant can reach into trees and dig into the ground for food. It spends most of its day foraging and eating. Its favourite food is grass, which it pulls up with its trunk. It also browses on trees and bushes, tearing off leaves, twigs and even whole branches and using its tusks to strip bark. Elephants are unable to easily digest cellulose, so over half the food they consume is passed straight through their body. They drink at least once a day, noisily sucking up the water with their trunks, then pouring it into their mouths.
Status : Endangered
Social Unit : Group
Length : Up t0 3.5 m (11 ft)
Tail : 1 - 1.5 m ( 3 1/4 - 5 ft)
Weight : 2 - 5 tonnes (2 - 4 7/8 tons)
Sexual Maturity : About 15 years
Breeding Season : Any time
Gestation Period : 22 months
Number Of Young : 1
Breeding Interval : Up to 5 years
Diet : Grasses, tree bark, roots, leaves, bananas, rice and sugar-cane
Lifespan : Up to 70 years