While talking about elephants, we imagine tall, majestic creatures with broad ivory tusks. We paint them as creatures with wrinkled skin, frolicking in the wild and spraying water fountains out of their trumpet-like trunks!
You’ve probably met these gentle giants on one of your jungle safaris or during your trips to the local zoo. But have you ever wondered where their real habitats are?
For centuries, they have claimed the continents of Asia and Africa as their homes. However, people across national boundaries have intricately weaved their existence into various cultural lores worldwide.
You see, there are three different species of elephants: the African Savannah elephant, the African Forest elephant, and the Asian elephant. Asian Elephants (scientifically known as Elephas maximus) are mostly found in the tropical forests and grasslands of 13 countries across South and Southeast Asia.
You’ve seen these gigantic herbivores in movies. Perhaps read about their valiant adventures in books? Today, in this blog, we’re going to blow your mind with some of the coolest Asian elephant facts!
So, come on now! Let’s put on our safari hats and explore some of the most extraordinary Asian elephant facts!
Asian elephants are the largest land mammals on Asian soil!
Although the Asian elephants are a tad bit smaller than their African counterparts, don’t underestimate them! They still take away the crown for being the largest land animal in Asia.
Most adult Asian elephants weigh from 6,000 pounds up to a whopping 11,000 pounds! The average male stands at a height of about 6 to 12 feet. Male Asian elephants are mostly larger than the females. The female elephants weigh slightly less.
On the other hand, African elephants are the largest of all land animals on planet Earth. Adult males can weigh up to even 14,000 pounds! They stand taller than their Asian friends at around 9.8 to 13 feet.
Elephant Ears, aka their natural identity cards
The Asian elephants have smaller ears than their African cousins. A fun thing you can notice is that Asian elephant ears look like the Indian subcontinent. In comparison, African elephants have their ears shaped like the larger African continent.
So, the elephants’ ears bear the tell-tale signs of their homelands. Isn’t that such a cool identity mark?
Get to know the three subspecies of Asian elephants
The Asian elephants are divided into three subspecies. Now, let’s learn some of the important Asian elephant habitat facts.
First, let’s meet the Indian elephant.
You’ll be surprised to find that India is home to over 60% of the Asian Elephant population. Countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, China, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam are also home to these animals.
Next on the list is the Sri Lankan elephant. You can spot them in the dry lowlands of Sri Lanka. Similar to their Indian cousins, they also have patches of colorless skin across their ears, faces, trunks, and bellies.
Alright folks! Now it’s time to get to know about the Sumatran elephant, and they’re quite a unique bunch. You’ll find these magnificent creatures wandering around the lush forests of the Sumatran island of Indonesia. Unlike their Indian and Sri Lankan cousins, they have the least pigmented skin.
But hold on, another group deserves your love and attention! Apart from the above three subspecies, a small population of Bornean elephants is hidden away from mainland Asia. These are found in Borneo, a secluded island in Southeast Asia. They are also known as Borneo Pygmy elephants because of their smaller size.
They have super large brains!
One key Asian elephant information is that, along with their African counterparts, they have the largest brains among land mammals. Usually, an adult elephant’s brain weighs between 9 and 13 pounds.
They have highly developed cerebrums and cerebellums. Therefore, they are highly intelligent beings and have a great learning capacity. You’d be surprised by the fact that their behavior is mostly learned!
They also have very large and dense temporal lobes, which contributes to their excellent long-term memory. You know what’s more interesting? Elephants can recognize their herd members even after decades of separation! What an intelligent creature, don’t you think?
They are huge foodies and eat all day!
Elephants love to eat their daily greens! Their daily meals consist of leaves, grasses, roots, shrubs, and fruits.
The meal plans also change according to the season and their habitat. During drier times, they increase their intake of barks of trees, twigs, and branches.
Elephants consume up to 170 kgs of food on a daily basis. You’ll be surprised to know elephants spend almost 18 hours of their day just eating!
Asian elephants and their aquatic affection.
Not only do Asian elephants love to enjoy their meal times, but they’re almost mindful of their water intake. Hence, you can always spot their herds near a freshwater source.
Did you know they require around 152 liters of water per day to properly hydrate themselves? Using its trunk, an adult male elephant can even suck up 212 liters of water within a few minutes! Unbelievable, isn’t it?
Their tusks are actually incisor teeth!
Here’s a fascinating tidbit: those shiny elephant tusks you see are actually super-sized incisor teeth! Yes, you heard us!
Imagine having teeth that large! These tusks are quite the dental feature and serve various important purposes in an elephant’s life. Elephants use tusks for digging, lifting objects, and gathering food.
But remember, these tusks don’t appear at birth. These impressive sets of teeth make their debut when the little elephants are around 2 years old. Sadly, hunters and poachers kill elephants for their precious ivory tusks.
The female elephants are in charge.
We rarely see elephants wandering alone in the woods. That’s because elephants are social beings and love to hang out in herds. You’ll be surprised to know that the herds are matriarchal in nature. The dominant elephant is the oldest or largest female elephant in a herd.
Interestingly, male elephants prefer a solo life or rolling with small bachelor groups. The mothers and other related female elephants in the herds bring up the infants and kids.
Baby elephants are very quick to stand on their own feet
Newborn baby elephants take only about 20 minutes to stand up on their own. Soon, they are ready to take their first baby steps after an hour!
Do you know what’s even cooler? Within two days, they’re not just walking but literally sprinting along with the rest of the herd. Why do they do that? Well, this is an important survival strategy. It allows elephants to stick together and search for food and water.
Man-animal conflict affects the lifespan of Asian elephants
Now you’re probably thinking: how long do Asian elephants live? It’s a question with a lot of answers. And you’re not going to like most of them!
Although African elephants live up to 70 years, the average Asian elephant lives up to its mid-60s in the wild.
Do you know why Asian elephants are endangered? Some of the reasons are illegal poaching and hunting activities, fragmentation of habitats, and deforestation.
Asian elephants existed as far as the Euphrates River!
Historically, they existed across the Asian continent, such as in parts of Persia and in parts of China. They were even roaming in the far east, along the banks of the Euphrates River.
But fast forward to the present day, and you’ll observe a different situation. These innocent creatures now occupy only 15% of the original range of their habitat. Isn’t that just heartbreaking?
The ecological importance of Asian elephants: They are the forest engineers!
Asian elephants help in pollination, clearing out pathways, and even digging up water in dry forest areas. Look at these multitasking engineers!
When there is no fresh water available on the surface, you can trust these hardworking giants to dig up water. It not only sustains their own kind but also helps other creatures to survive in the heat.
What’s more, they also create new pathways and clear the way for sunlight to come in and reach new saplings. Also, guess what? Elephant poop helps in seed dispersal! Therefore, they earned the title of gardeners of the forest.
The Asian elephant is the last surviving member of its genus.
Yes, you read it right! One of the saddening Asian elephant facts is that it’s the only surviving member of the genus Elephas! The population has reduced by almost 50% in the last seven decades.
Shockingly, today, there are only around 52,000 Asian elephants surviving in the wild. More than half of their population lives in India. You’ll find around 10,000 of them in the northeastern region of India.
Outside of India, the numbers are even lower. Only a few hundred survive in China, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
Asian elephants hold immense cultural importance.
In Asian cultures, these elephants are revered as symbols of physical and mental strength, intelligence, royal wisdom, and power. This respect was born out of the fact that they have great memory power.
Across Southeastern Asia, the Asian elephant symbolizes fertility and wealth. In Hinduism, the god Ganesha has the head of an elephant and the body of a man.
In Buddhism, the elephant is an important character in the legend of Budhha. The childless Queen Maya dreamed of a white elephant with a lotus in its trunk that went into her womb. Soon, she was blessed with a baby boy named Siddhartha, who later on became the enlightened Buddha.
Asian elephants are quickly decreasing in number
Although Asian elephants are revered across the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asian countries, they now face several man-made threats.
The Indian elephant is India’s National Heritage Animal. It is on the endangered list of the IUCN Red List. The major threats faced by this subspecies are loss and fragmentation of habitat, man-elephant conflict, and illegal poaching activities.
The Sri Lankan elephant also shares the same IUCN status as its Indian counterpart. Over there, poachers hunt down the males to extract and sell ivory tusks.
The Sumatran elephant faces a crisis worse than the above two. It is in the critically endangered category of the IUCN List.
Unfortunately, over the last few decades, some devastating changes have been happening in Sumatra. The natural forests that have been home to elephants for centuries have been converted into softwood and oil palm plantations. As a result, those creatures lost their homes.
The Way Forward for Asian Elephants
The Asian elephant needs urgent protection from ardent conservationists. If you’re an animal lover, please join hands with wildlife organizations to save this beautiful creature.
You’ll be glad to know that India protects the Asian elephant through the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. The Indian government also supports Project Elephant to protect elephant corridors’ habitats and reduce conflicts.
Moreover, the WWF works to reduce human-elephant conflicts, stop poaching, and illegal trading. They also help to secure healthy habitats and keep population data.
Did you enjoy learning these facts about the gentle giant of Asia? Let’s hope for the betterment of these beautiful elephants in the future.
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