Indian elephant

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Indian elephant
Temporal range: Pleistocene – Recent [1]
Elephas maximus (Bandipur).jpg
Tusked male in Bandipur National Park
Female in Nagarhole National Park
Status iucn3.1 EN.svg
Endangered  (IUCN 3.1) [2] (Elephas maximus)
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Proboscidea
Family: Elephantidae
Genus: Elephas
E. m. indicus
Trinomial name
Elephas maximus indicus
Cuvier, 1798

E. m. bengalensis de Blainville, 1843

The Indian elephant (Elephas maximus indicus) is one of four[ citation needed ] extant recognised subspecies of the Asian elephant and native to mainland Asia. [3]


Since 1986, the Asian elephant has been listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List as the wild population has declined by at least 50% since the 1930s to 1940s, i.e. three elephant generations. The Asian elephant is threatened by habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation. [2]


The skull of Indian elephant at the Goteborgs Naturhistoriska Museum, Goteborg, Vastra Gotaland County, Sweden Elephas maximus indicus (skull) at Goteborgs Naturhistoriska Museum 2368.jpg
The skull of Indian elephant at the Göteborgs Naturhistoriska Museum, Göteborg, Västra Götaland County, Sweden

In general, Asian elephants are smaller than African elephants and have the highest body point on the head. The tip of their trunk has one finger-like process. Their back is convex or level. [3] Indian elephants reach a shoulder height of between 2 and 3.2 m (6.6 and 10.5 ft), weigh between 2,000 and 5,000 kg (4,400 and 11,000 lb), and have 19 pairs of ribs. Their skin colour is lighter than that of E. m. maximus with smaller patches of depigmentation, but darker than that of E. m. sumatranus . Females are usually smaller than males, and have short or no tusks. [4]

The largest Indian elephant was 3.43 m (11.3 ft) high at the shoulder. [5] In 1985, two large elephant bulls were spotted for the first time in Bardia National Park, and named Raja Gaj and Kanchha. They roamed the park area together and occasionally visited female herds. Raja Gaj stood 3.43 m (11.3 ft) tall at the shoulder and had a massive body weight. His forehead and domes were more prominent than in other Asian bull elephants. [6] His appearance has been compared to that of a Stegodon and mammoth due to his high bi-domed shaped head. [7]

Indian elephants have smaller ears, but relatively broader skulls and larger trunks than African elephants. Toes are large and broad. Unlike their African cousins, their abdomen is proportionate with their body weight but the African elephant has a large abdomen as compared to the skulls.[ citation needed ]

Distribution and habitat

Wild elephants in Munnar, Kerala Wild elephants, Munnar.jpg
Wild elephants in Munnar, Kerala
An elephant herd in Jim Corbett National Park An elephant herd at Jim Corbett National Park.jpg
An elephant herd in Jim Corbett National Park
Elephants bathing at Mudumalai National Park's elephant camp Indian Elephants.jpg
Elephants bathing at Mudumalai National Park's elephant camp
An elephant at Sathyamangalam Wildlife Sanctuary Elephant Gobi.jpg
An elephant at Sathyamangalam Wildlife Sanctuary

The Indian elephant is native to mainland Asia: India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Malay Peninsula, Laos, China, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It is regionally extinct in Pakistan. [2] It inhabits grasslands, dry deciduous, moist deciduous, evergreen and semi-evergreen forests. In the early 1990s, the estimated wild populations included: [8]

A tusked male at Khao Yai National Park, Thailand Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus) (7852943934).jpg
A tusked male at Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

Elephant corridors

There are a total of 138 state elephant corridors, 28 interstate corridors and 17 international state corridors where Indian elephant populations are found. The table below enlists the corridors. [11]

Region-wise Distribution of Corridors
RegionNumber of CorridorsArea (km2)Percentage of elephant population
North-East 5841,00033%
East 5423,50010%
North 85,5004%
South 4640,00053%

Ecology and behaviour

Wild Indian elephants Wild Elephant by N A Nazeer.jpg
Wild Indian elephants

Elephants are classified as megaherbivores and consume up to 150 kg (330 lb) of plant matter per day. [12] They are generalist feeders, and both grazers and browsers. In a study area of 1,130 km2 (440 sq mi) in southern India, elephants were recorded to feed on 112 different plant species, most commonly of the order Malvales, and the legume, palm, sedge and true grass families. They graze on the tall grasses, but the portion consumed varies with season. When the new flush appears in April, they remove the tender blades in small clumps. Later, when grasses are higher than 0.5 m (1.6 ft), they uproot entire clumps, dust them skilfully and consume the fresh leave tops, but discard the roots. When grasses are mature in autumn, they clean and consume the succulent basal portions with the roots, and discard the fibrous blades. From the bamboos, they eat seedlings, culms and lateral shoots. During the dry season from January to April, they mainly browse on both leaves and twigs preferring the fresh foliage, and consume thorn bearing shoots of acacia species without any obvious discomfort. They feed on the bark of white thorn and other flowering plants, and consume the fruits of wood apple, tamarind, kumbhi and date palm. [13]

In Nepal's Bardia National Park, elephants consume large amounts of the floodplain grass, particularly during the monsoon season. They browse more in the dry season with bark constituting a major part of their diet in the cool part of that season. [14] During a study in a tropical moist mixed deciduous forested area of 160 km2 (62 sq mi) in Assam, elephants were observed to feed on about 20 species of grasses, plants and trees. Grasses such as Imperata cylindrica and Leersia hexandra constituted by far the most predominant component of their diet. [15]

A herd of wild elephants at Kui Buri National Park, Thailand Kui Buri National Park (Prachuap Khiri Khan Province, Thailand.jpg
A herd of wild elephants at Kui Buri National Park, Thailand

The movement and habitat utilisation patterns of an elephant population were studied in southern India during 1981–83 within a 1,130 km2 (440 sq mi) study area. The vegetation types of this area encompasses dry thorn forest at 250 to 400 m (820 to 1,310 ft), deciduous forest at 400 to 1,400 m (1,300 to 4,600 ft), stunted evergreen forest and grassland at 1,400 to 1,800 m (4,600 to 5,900 ft). Five different elephant clans, each consisting of between 50 and 200 individuals had home ranges of between 105 km2 (41 sq mi) and 320 km2 (120 sq mi), which overlapped. They preferred habitat where water was available and food plants were palatable. During the dry months of January to April, they congregated at high densities of up to five individuals per km2 in river valleys where browse plants had a much higher protein content than the coarse tall grasses on hill slopes. With the onset of rains in May, they dispersed over a wider area at lower densities, largely into the tall grass forests, to feed on the fresh grasses, which then had a high protein value. During the second wet season from September to December, when the tall grasses became fibrous, they moved into lower elevation short grass open forests. The normal movement pattern could be upset during years of adverse environmental conditions. However, the movement pattern of elephants in this region has not basically changed for over a century, as inferred from descriptions recorded during the 19th century. [16]

In the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve three elephant clans had overall home ranges of 562 km2 (217 sq mi), 670 km2 (260 sq mi) and 799 km2 (308 sq mi) in the beginning of the 1990s. During three years of survey, their annual home ranges overlapped to a large extent with only minor shifts in the home ranges between years. [17]


A large male in Mudumalai National Park Mudumalai forest elephant.jpg
A large male in Mudumalai National Park
A calf in the Nagarhole National Park with injuries on the head indicating a possible attack by a leopard or a tiger Elephas maximus calf injured (Nagarhole, 2010).jpg
A calf in the Nagarhole National Park with injuries on the head indicating a possible attack by a leopard or a tiger
Ivory chopsticks Chopsticks.jpg
Ivory chopsticks

The pre-eminent threats to Asian elephants today are habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, which are driven by an expanding human population, and lead in turn to increasing conflicts between humans and elephants when elephants eat or trample crops. [2] Loss of significant extents of elephant range and suitable habitat continues; their free movement is impeded by reservoirs, hydroelectric projects and associated canals, irrigation dams, numerous pockets of cultivation and plantations, highways, railway lines, mining and industrial development. [8]

Poaching of elephants for ivory is a serious threat in some parts of Asia. Poaching of tuskers impacts on sex ratios that become highly female biased; genetic variation is reduced, and fecundity and recruitment may decline. [8] Poaching has dramatically skewed adult sex ratios in the Periyar Tiger Reserve, where between 1969 and 1989 the adult male:female sex ratio changed from 1:6 to 1:122. [18]

Elephant conservation in northern West Bengal has been set back due to high-levels of human–elephant conflict and elephant mortality owing to railway accidents. The railway track between Siliguri and Alipurduar passes through 74 km (46 mi) of various forest divisions. Every day, 20 trains run on this track at high speeds. Elephants that pass through from one forest patch to another dash against the trains and die. A total of 39 dead elephants were reported during the period of 1958 to 2008, of which ten were reported killed between 2004 and 2008. [19]

In Bangladesh, forested areas that served as prime elephant habitat have undergone drastic reduction, which had a severe impact on the wild elephant population. Habitat loss and fragmentation is attributed to the increasing human population and its need for fuel wood and timber. Illegal timber extraction plays a significant role in deforestation and habitat degradation. As a result of the shrinking habitat, elephants have become more and more prone to coming into direct conflict with humans. [20]

In Myanmar, demand for elephant ivory for making tourist items is higher than ever before. The military government shows little interest in reducing the ivory trade, while the elephants in the country have become the silent victims. After the worldwide ivory ban, prices of raw ivory in the country skyrocketed from $76 a kilo for large tusks in 1989/90 to over $200 a kilo by the mid-1990s. Foreign tourists are responsible for the massive rise in price of ivory tusks which fuels the illegal killing of elephants. There is also a sizeable trade in ivory chopsticks and carvings, smuggled by traders from Myanmar into China. [21]

Young wild-born elephants are removed from their mothers in Myanmar for use in Thailand's tourism industry. Mothers are often killed in the process, and calves are placed alongside unrelated cows to suggest they are with their mothers. The calves are often subjected to a 'breaking in' process, which may involve being tied up, confined, starved, beaten and tortured, as a result of which two-thirds may perish. [22]

Electrocution due to contact with electric poles and transformers has been reported as another major threat to elephants in India, with an estimated 461 elephants having been electrocuted between 2009 and 2017. [23] [24]

For disease risk, see Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus.

Project Elephant

Elephant Raju at Indira Gandhi Zoological Park, Visakhapatnam Elephant Raju at Indira Gandhi Zoological Park, Visakhapatnam.jpg
Elephant Raju at Indira Gandhi Zoological Park, Visakhapatnam

Project Elephant was launched in 1992 by the Government of India Ministry of Environment and Forests to provide financial and technical support of wildlife management efforts by states for their free ranging populations of wild Asian Elephants. The project aims to ensure long-term survival of viable conservation reliant populations of elephants in their natural habitats by protecting the elephants, their habitats and migration corridors. Other goals of Project Elephant are supporting research of the ecology and management of elephants, creating conservation awareness among local people, providing improved veterinary care for captive elephants. [25] [26]


The Indian elephant is a cultural symbol throughout its range in Asia. In Thailand, it is the national animal. [27] In India, it has been designated the national heritage animal [28] (the tiger being the national animal). The Indian elephant is also the state animal of the Indian states of Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala and Odisha. [29] It is the national animal of Laos. [30]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Elephants are the largest existing land animals. Three living species are currently recognised: the African bush elephant, the African forest elephant, and the Asian elephant. They are the only surviving members of the family Elephantidae and the order Proboscidea. The order was formerly much more diverse during the Pleistocene, but most species became extinct during the Late Pleistocene epoch. Distinctive features of elephants include a long proboscis called a trunk, tusks, large ear flaps, pillar-like legs, and tough but sensitive skin. The trunk is used for breathing and is prehensile, bringing food and water to the mouth, and grasping objects. Tusks, which are derived from the incisor teeth, serve both as weapons and as tools for moving objects and digging. The large ear flaps assist in maintaining a constant body temperature as well as in communication. African elephants have larger ears and concave backs, whereas Asian elephants have smaller ears, and convex or level backs.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Clouded leopard</span> Species of wild cat

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bengal tiger</span> Tiger population on the Indian subcontinent

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Asian golden cat</span> Small wild cat

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Asian elephant</span> Species of mammal in the family Elephantidae

The Asian elephant, also known as the Asiatic elephant, is the only living species of the genus Elephas and is distributed throughout the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, from India in the west, Nepal in the north, Sumatra in the south, and to Borneo in the east. Three subspecies are recognised—E. m. maximus from Sri Lanka, E. m. indicus from mainland Asia and E. m. sumatranus from the island of Sumatra. Formerly, there was also the Syrian elephant or Western Asiatic elephant which was the westernmost population of the Asian elephant. This subspecies became extinct in ancient times. Skeletal remains of E. m. asurus have been recorded from the Middle East: Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey from periods dating between at least 1800 BC and likely 700 BC. It is one of only three living species of elephants or elephantids anywhere in the world, the others being the African bush elephant and African forest elephant. It is the second largest species of elephant after the African bush elephant.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mudumalai National Park</span> Nature conservation areapa in Tamil Nadu, India

Mudumalai National Park is a national park in the Nilgiri Mountains in Tamil Nadu, south India. It covers 321 km2 (124 sq mi) at an elevation range of 850–1,250 m (2,790–4,100 ft) in the Nilgiri District and shares boundaries with the states of Karnataka and Kerala. A part of this area has been protected since 1940. The national park has been part of Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve since 1986 and was declared a tiger reserve together with a buffer zone of 367.59 km2 (141.93 sq mi) in 2007. It receives an annual rainfall of about 1,420 mm (56 in) and harbours tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests with 498 plant species, at least 266 bird species, 18 carnivore and 10 herbivore species. It is drained by the Moyar River and several tributaries, which harbour 38 fish species.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sumatran elephant</span> Subspecies of mammal

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bardiya National Park</span> National Park of Nepal

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sri Lankan elephant</span> Subspecies of the Asian elephant

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Upper Gangetic Plains moist deciduous forests</span> Ecoregion in northern India

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Kallana is a suspected species of dwarf elephants allegedly found in South India. Kaani tribals dwelling in the rainforests of the Western Ghats claim that there are two distinct varieties of elephants in the Peppara forest range, one the common Indian elephants, and the other a dwarf variety which they call kallana. The name kallana comes from the words "kallu", which means stones or boulders, and "aana", which means elephant. The tribals gave the creatures this name because they see the smaller elephant more often in the higher altitudes where the terrain is rocky. Some tribals also call the delicate creatures thumbiana for the speed with which the pachyderms run through trees and rocks when disturbed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Indian leopard</span> Leopard subspecies

The Indian leopard is a leopard subspecies widely distributed on the Indian subcontinent. The species Panthera pardus is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List because populations have declined following habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching for the illegal trade of skins and body parts, and persecution due to conflict situations. The Indian leopard is one of the big cats occurring on the Indian subcontinent, along with the Asiatic lion, Bengal tiger, snow leopard and clouded leopard. In 2014, a national census of leopards around tiger habitats was carried out in India except the northeast. 7,910 individuals were estimated in surveyed areas and a national total of 12,000–14,000 speculated.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Syrian elephant</span> Extinct subspecies of the Asian elephant

The Syrian elephant or Western Asiatic elephant was the westernmost population of the Asian elephant, which became extinct in ancient times. Skeletal remains of E. m. asurus have been recorded from the Middle East: Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey from periods dating between at least 1800 BC and likely 700 BC. Due to the lack of any Late Pleistocene or early to mid Holocene record for Asian elephants in the region, there are suggestions that the elephants were anthropogenically introduced into the region during the Bronze Age, though this is disputed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shuklaphanta National Park</span>

Shuklaphanta National Park is a national park in the Terai of the Far-Western Region, Nepal, covering 305 km2 (118 sq mi) of open grasslands, forests, riverbeds and tropical wetlands at an elevation of 174 to 1,386 m. It is bounded by the Mahakali river in the west and south. A small part extends north of the Mahendra Highway to create a wildlife corridor for seasonal migration of wildlife into the Sivalik Hills. It was gazetted in 1976 as Royal Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve and was enlarged to its presence size in the late 1980s. A buffer zone of 243.5 km2 (94.0 sq mi) was added in 2004. It receives a mean annual rainfall of 1,579 mm (62.2 in) and harbours 700 floral, 456 bird, 56 reptile and 15 amphibian species.

The Barandabhar forest covers an area of 87.9 km2 and bisects the Chitwan District in east and west Chitwan. Barandabhar, a 29 km long forest patch, is bisected by the Mahendra Highway, resulting in a 56.9 km2 area in the buffer zone of RCNP and 31 km2 is under the district forest office.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">World Elephant Day</span> Annual event on August 12 dedicated to the preservation and protection of the worlds elephants

World Elephant Day is an international annual event on August 12, dedicated to the preservation and protection of the world's elephants. Conceived in 2011 by Canadian filmmakers Patricia Sims and Michael Clark of Canazwest Pictures, and Sivaporn Dardarananda, Secretary-General of the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation in Thailand, it was officially founded, supported and launched by Patricia Sims and the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation on August 12, 2012. Since that time, Patricia Sims continues to lead, support and direct World Elephant Day, which is now recognized and celebrated by over 100 wildlife organizations and many individuals in countries across the globe.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Elephants in Thailand</span>

The elephant has been a contributor to Thai society and its icon for many centuries. The elephant has had a considerable impact on Thai culture. The Thai elephant is the official national animal of Thailand. The elephant found in Thailand is the Indian elephant, a subspecies of the Asian elephant. In the early-1900s there were an estimated 100,000 captive elephants in Thailand. In mid-2007 there were an estimated 3,456 captive elephants left in Thailand and roughly a thousand wild elephants. By 2017 the number of captive elephants had risen to an estimated 3,783. The elephant became an endangered species in Thailand in 1986.

Human-elephant conflict (HEC) is a large threat in certain rural areas of Sri Lanka. People and elephants, very often lose their lives and properties in this conflict. Approximately 250 elephants and 80 people die in Sri Lanka each year. Most elephant calves are killed by the hunting method known as "Hakka Pattas" The Department of Wildlife Conservation estimated that there are currently 7,000 elephants in the country. According to the Department of Wildlife Conservation official records showed that more than 361 elephants were killed in 2019. Sri Lanka has surpassed highest number of elephant kills than any other county in the world.


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Further reading