Asian elephant

The Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), also called 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.[1]

The Asian elephant is the largest living land animal in Asia.[4] Since 1986, the Asian elephant has been listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, as the population has declined by at least 50 percent over the last three generations, estimated to be 60–75 years. It is primarily threatened by loss of habitat, habitat degradation, fragmentation and poaching.[3] In 2003, the wild population was estimated at between 41,410 and 52,345 individuals. Female captive elephants have lived beyond 60 years when kept in semi-natural surroundings, such as forest camps. In zoos, Asian elephants die at a much younger age; captive populations are declining due to a low birth and high death rate.[5]

The genus Elephas originated in Sub-Saharan Africa during the Pliocene and spread throughout Africa before expanding into the southern half of Asia.[2] The earliest indications of captive use of Asian elephants are engravings on seals of the Indus Valley Civilisation dated to the 3rd millennium BC.[6]

Asian elephant
Temporal range:
PlioceneHolocene,[2] 2.5–0 Ma
Elephas maximus (Bandipur)
A tusked male Asian elephant in Bandipur National Park, Karnataka, India
A female Asian elephant with calf in Mudumalai National Park, Tamil Nadu, India
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Proboscidea
Family: Elephantidae
Genus: Elephas
E. maximus[1]
Binomial name
Elephas maximus[1]

E. m. maximus
E. m. indicus
E. m. sumatranus
E. m. borneensis

Elephas Maximus distribution evolution map
Asian elephant historical range (pink) and current range (red)


Sri Lanka Elephants 03
Sri Lankan elephants

Carl Linnaeus first described the genus Elephas and an elephant from Ceylon under the binomial Elephas maximus in 1758.[7] In 1798, Georges Cuvier first described the Indian elephant under the binomial Elephas indicus.[8] In 1847, Coenraad Jacob Temminck first described the Sumatran elephant under the binomial Elephas sumatranus.[9] Frederick Nutter Chasen classified all three as subspecies of the Asian elephant in 1940.[10]

Three subspecies are currently recognised: the Sri Lankan elephant, the Indian elephant, and the Sumatran elephant.[3][4] In 1950, Paules Edward Pieris Deraniyagala described the Borneo elephant under the trinomial Elephas maximus borneensis, taking as his type an illustration in National Geographic, but not a living elephant in accordance with the rules of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.[11] E. m. borneensis lives in northern Borneo and is smaller than all the other subspecies, but with larger ears, a longer tail, and straight tusks. Results of genetic analysis indicate that its ancestors separated from the mainland population about 300,000 years ago.[12]

The population in Vietnam and Laos was tested to determine if it is a subspecies as well. This research is considered vital, as less than 1,300 wild Asian elephants remain in Laos.[13] In addition, two extinct subspecies are considered to have existed:

  • The Chinese elephant is sometimes separated as E. m. rubridens (pink-tusked elephant); it disappeared after the 14th century BC.
  • The Syrian elephant (E. m. asurus), the westernmost and the largest subspecies of the Asian elephant, became extinct around 100 BC. This population, along with the Indian elephant, was considered the best war elephant in antiquity, and was found superior to the smallish North African elephant (Loxodonta africana pharaoensis) used by the armies of Carthage.


Illustration of an elephant skeleton[14]

In general, the Asian elephant is smaller than the African bush elephant and has the highest body point on the head. The back is convex or level. The ears are small with dorsal borders folded laterally. It has up to 20 pairs of ribs and 34 caudal vertebrae. The feet have more nail-like structures than those of African elephants—five on each forefoot, and four on each hind foot.[4]


On average, males are about 2.75 m (9.0 ft) tall at the shoulder and 4 t (4.4 short tons) in weight, while females are smaller at about 2.4 m (7.9 ft) at the shoulder and 2.7 t (3.0 short tons) in weight.[15][16][17] Length of body and head including trunk is 5.5–6.5 m (18–21 ft) with the tail being 1.2–1.5 m (3.9–4.9 ft) long.[4] The largest bull elephant ever recorded was shot by the Maharajah of Susang in the Garo Hills of Assam, India in 1924, it weighed 7 t (7.7 short tons), stood 3.43 m (11.3 ft) tall at the shoulder and was 8.06 m (26.4 ft) long from head to tail.[15][18][19] There are reports of larger individuals as tall as 3.7 m (12 ft).[14]


Asian Elephant, Royal Chitwan National Park
Asian elephant drinking water

The distinctive trunk is an elongation of the nose and upper lip combined; the nostrils are at its tip, which has a one finger-like process. The trunk contains as many as 60,000 muscles, which consist of longitudinal and radiating sets. The longitudinals are mostly superficial and subdivided into anterior, lateral, and posterior. The deeper muscles are best seen as numerous distinct fasciculi in a cross-section of the trunk. The trunk is a multipurpose prehensile organ and highly sensitive, innervated by the maxillary division of the trigeminal nerve and by the facial nerve. The acute sense of smell uses both the trunk and Jacobson's organ. Elephants use their trunks for breathing, watering, feeding, touching, dusting, sound production and communication, washing, pinching, grasping, defense and offense.[4]

The "proboscis" or trunk consists wholly of muscular and membranous tissue, and is a tapering muscular structure of nearly circular cross-section extending proximally from attachment at the anterior nasal orifice, and ending distally in a tip or finger. The length may vary from 1.5 to 2 m (59 to 79 in) or longer depending on the species and age. Four basic muscle masses—the radial, the longitudinal and two oblique layers—and the size and attachments points of the tendon masses allow the shortening, extension, bending, and twisting movements accounting for the ability to hold, and manipulate loads of up to 300 kg (660 lb). Muscular and tendinous ability combined with nervous control allows extraordinary strength and agility movements of the trunk, such as sucking and spraying of water or dust and directed air flow blowing.[20]

The trunk can hold about four litres of water. Elephants will playfully wrestle with each other using their trunks, but generally use their trunks only for gesturing when fighting.[21]


Tusker debarking a tree

Tusks serve to dig for water, salt, and rocks, to debark and uproot trees, as levers for maneuvering fallen trees and branches, for work, for display, for marking trees, as weapon for offense and defense, as trunk-rests, and as protection for the trunk. Elephants are known to be right or left tusked.[4]

Female Asian elephants usually lack tusks; if tusks—in that case called "tushes"—are present, they are barely visible, and only seen when the mouth is open. The enamel plates of the molars are greater in number and closer together in Asian elephants. Some males may also lack tusks; these individuals are called "filsy makhnas", and are especially common among the Sri Lankan elephant population. Furthermore, the forehead has two hemispherical bulges, unlike the flat front of the African elephant. Unlike African elephants which rarely use their forefeet for anything other than digging or scraping soil, Asian elephants are more agile at using their feet in conjunction with the trunk for manipulating objects. They can sometimes be known for their violent behaviour.[22]

A record tusk described by George P. Sanderson measured 5 ft (1.5 m) along the curve, with a girth of 16 in (41 cm) at the point of emergence from the jaw, the weight being 104 12 lb (47.4 kg). This was from an elephant killed by Sir Brooke and measured 8 ft (2.4 m) in length, and nearly 17 in (43 cm) in circumference, and weighed 90 lb (41 kg). The tusk's weight was, however, exceeded by the weight of a shorter tusk of about 6 ft (1.8 m) in length which weighed 100 lb (45 kg).[14]


Elephant - Guruvayur
Depigmented skin on the forehead and ears of an Asian elephant

Skin colour is usually grey, and may be masked by soil because of dusting and wallowing. Their wrinkled skin is movable and contains many nerve centers. It is smoother than that of African elephants, and may be depigmented on the trunk, ears, or neck. The epidermis and dermis of the body average 18 mm (0.71 in) thick; skin on the dorsum is 30 mm (1.2 in) thick providing protection against bites, bumps, and adverse weather. Its folds increase surface area for heat dissipation. They can tolerate cold better than excessive heat. Skin temperature varies from 24 to 32.9 °C (75.2 to 91.2 °F). Body temperature averages 35.9 °C (96.6 °F).[4]


Asian elephants have a very large and highly convoluted neocortex, a trait also shared by humans, apes and certain dolphin species. They have a greater volume of cerebral cortex available for cognitive processing than all other existing land animals. Results of studies indicate that Asian elephants have cognitive abilities for tool use and tool making similar to great apes.[23] They exhibit a wide variety of behaviours, including those associated with grief, learning, allomothering, mimicry, play, altruism, use of tools, compassion, cooperation, self-awareness, memory, and language. Elephants are reported to go to safer ground during natural disasters like tsunamis and earthquakes, although there have been no scientific records of this since it is hard to recreate or predict natural disasters.

Several students of elephant cognition and neuroanatomy are convinced that Asian elephants are highly intelligent and self-aware.[24][25][26] Others contest this view.[27][28]

Distribution and habitat

An elephant herd at Jim Corbett National Park
An elephant herd in the grasslands of Jim Corbett National Park
Asiatic Elephant Kabini
Asian elephant grazing on the banks of Kabini River, Nagarhole National Park
Лежачий азиатский слон. Таиланд
Asian elephant in Thailand
Слонёнок азиатского слона. Таиланд
Young Asian elephant in Thailand

Asian elephants inhabit grasslands, tropical evergreen forests, semi-evergreen forests, moist deciduous forests, dry deciduous forests and dry thorn forests, in addition to cultivated and secondary forests and scrublands. Over this range of habitat types elephants occur from sea level to over 3,000 m (9,800 ft). In the eastern Himalaya in northeast India, they regularly move up above 3,000 m (9,800 ft) in summer at a few sites.[29]

In China, the Asian elephant survives only in the prefectures of Xishuangbanna, Simao, and Lincang of southern Yunnan.

In Bangladesh, some isolated populations survive in the south-east Chittagong Hills.[6] A herd of 20–25 wild elephants was reported as being present in the Garo Hills of Mymensingh in the late-1990s, being detached from a big herd in the Peack hills of India and prevented from returning by fences put up in the meantime by the Indian border security force. The herd was estimated at about 60 individuals in 2014.[30]

Three subspecies are recognised:[3][4]

The Borneo elephant occurs in Borneo's northern and northeastern parts.[31] In 2003, mitochondrial DNA analysis and microsatellite data indicated that the Borneo elephant population is derived from stock that originated in the region of the Sunda Islands. The genetic divergence of Borneo elephants warrants their recognition as a separate Evolutionarily Significant Unit.[32]

Ecology and behaviour

Baby elephants at the Elephant Conservation Center (Laos)
A 5-month-old calf and its 17-month-old cousin in a sanctuary in Laos

Elephants are crepuscular.[4] They are classified as megaherbivores and consume up to 150 kg (330 lb) of plant matter per day.[33] They are generalist feeders, and both grazers and browsers, and were recorded to feed on 112 different plant species, most commonly of the order Malvales, and the legume, palm, sedge and true grass families.[34] They browse more in the dry season with bark constituting a major part of their diet in the cool part of that season.[35] They drink at least once a day and are never far from a permanent source of fresh water.[4] They need 80–200 litres of water a day and use even more for bathing. At times, they scrape the soil for clay or minerals.

Adult females and calves move about together as groups, but adult males disperse from their mothers when reaching adolescence. Bull elephants are solitary or form temporary 'bachelor groups'.[36] Cow-calf units generally tend to be small, typically consisting of three adult most likely related females and their offspring.[37] Larger groups of as many as 15 adult females have also been recorded.[38] Seasonal aggregations of 17 individuals including calves and subadults have been observed in Sri Lanka's Uda Walawe National Park. Until recently, Asian elephants, like African elephants, were thought to typically follow the leadership of older adult females, or matriarchs. But females form extensive and very fluid social networks, with varying degrees of associations between individuals.[39] Social ties generally tend to be weaker than in African elephants.[38]

Elephants are able to distinguish low amplitude sounds.[40] They use infrasound to communicate.[41]

Tigers have been recorded rarely attacking and killing calves especially if the calves become separated from their mothers, are stranded from their herd or are orphaned. Adults are largely invulnerable to natural predation. There is a singular anecdotal case of a mother Asian elephant allegedly being killed alongside her calf, however this may well be dubious.[42][43]


Indian elephants in the Coimbatore Forests, Tamil Nadu
Elephants Chester Zoo
A cow elephant with suckling young at the Chester Zoo

Bulls will fight one another to get access to oestrous females. Strong fights over access to females are extremely rare. Bulls reach sexual maturity around the age of 12–15. Between the age of 10 and 20 years, bulls undergo an annual phenomenon known as "musth". This is a period where the testosterone level is up to 100 times greater than non-musth periods, and they become aggressive. Secretions containing pheromones occur during this period, from the paired temporal glands located on the head between the lateral edge of the eye and the base of the ear.[44]

The gestation period is 18–22 months, and the female gives birth to one calf, only occasionally twins. The calf is fully developed by the 19th month, but stays in the womb to grow so that it can reach its mother to feed. At birth, the calf weighs about 100 kg (220 lb), and is suckled for up to three years. Once a female gives birth, she usually does not breed again until the first calf is weaned, resulting in a four to five year birth interval. Females stay on with the herd, but mature males are chased away.[45]

Asiatic elephants reach adulthood at 17 years of age in both sexes.[46] Elephants' life expectancy has been exaggerated in the past. They live on average for 60 years in the wild and 80 in captivity.[4]

Generation length of the Asian elephant is 22 years.[47]

Females produce sex pheromones. A principal component thereof, (Z)-7-dodecen-1-yl acetate, has also been found to be a sex pheromone in numerous species of insects.[48][49]

Interaction with humans

Elephants are used for safari tourism throughout Asia
The good luck elephant
Sri Lankan elephants at Esala Perahera
At this elephant training camp, captive elephants are taught to handle logs.

At most seasons of the year, Asian elephants are timid and much more ready to flee from a foe than to attack. However, solitary rogues are frequently an exception to this rule, and sometimes make unprovoked attacks on passers-by. Rogue elephants sometimes take up a position near a road, making it impassable to travellers. Females with calves are at all times dangerous to approach. When an Asian elephant makes a charge, it tightly curls up its trunk and attacks by trampling its victim with feet or knees, or, if a male, by pinning it to the ground with its tusks. During musth, bulls are highly dangerous, not only to human beings, but also to other animals. At the first indications, trained elephants are secured tightly to prevent any mishaps. There is also one case of a rogue elephant having actually consumed a human, an attack merited to be extremely unnatural. The elephant, a rogue female, had previously lost her calf to an accident involving farmers. This grievous loss led the elephant to target humans first as a threat, and then as a food source as her mental state deteriorated until she was finally killed and later dissected, revealing through DNA analysis that she had indeed consumed human flesh. The incident was revealed to the general public in several articles and in the Animal Planet documentary "World's Deadliest Towns: Man-Eating Elephant".[50]


The first historical record of the domestication of Asian elephants was in Harappan times.[51] Ultimately, the elephant went on to become a siege engine, a mount in war, a status symbol, a beast of burden, and an elevated platform for hunting during historical times in South Asia.[52]

Elephants have been captured from the wild and tamed for use by humans. Their ability to work under instruction makes them particularly useful for carrying heavy objects. They have been used particularly for timber-carrying in jungle areas. Other than their work use, they have been used in war, in ceremonies, and for carriage. It is reported that war elephants are still in use by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) to take control of Kachin State in northern Myanmar from Myanmar's military. The KIA use about four dozen elephants to carry supplies.[53] They have been used for their ability to travel over difficult terrain by hunters, for whom they served as mobile hunting platforms. The same purpose is met in safaris in modern times.


The pre-eminent threats to Asian elephants today are loss, degradation and fragmentation of habitat, leading in turn to increasing conflicts between humans and elephants. They are poached for ivory and a variety of other products including meat and leather.[3]

Human–elephant conflict

Prime elephant habitat cleared for jhum—a type of shifting cultivation practiced in Arunachal Pradesh
Khaoyai 06
Elephants on the road in Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

One of the major instigators of human–wildlife conflict is competition for space. Destruction of forests through logging, encroachment, slash-and-burn, shifting cultivation, and monoculture tree plantations are major threats to the survival of elephants. Human–elephant conflicts occur when elephants raid crops of shifting cultivators in fields, which are scattered over a large area interspersed with forests. Depredation in human settlements is another major area of human–elephant conflict occurring in small forest pockets, encroachments into elephant habitat, and on elephant migration routes.[54] Studies in Sri Lanka indicate that traditional slash-and-burn agriculture creates optimal habitat for elephants by creating a mosaic of successional-stage vegetation. Populations inhabiting small habitat fragments are much more liable to come into conflict with humans.[55]

Human-elephant conflict is categorised into:[56]

Development such as border fencing along the India-Bangladesh border has become a major impediment to the free movement of elephants.[57] In Assam, more than 1,150 humans and 370 elephants died as a result of human-elephant conflict between 1980 and 2003.[54] In India alone, over 400 people are killed by elephants every year, and 0.8 to 1 million hectares are damaged, affecting at least 500,000 families across the country.[58][59][60] Moreover, elephants are known to destroy crops worth up to US$2–3 million annually.[61] This has major impacts on the welfare and livelihoods of local communities, as well as the future conservation of this species.[56] In countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the Asian elephant is easily one of the most feared wild animals, although they are certainly far less deadly than those such as venomous snakes (which were estimated to claim more than 30 times more lives in Sri Lanka than elephants).[62][63] As a whole, Asian elephants are considered behaviorally unpredictable, most tend to avoid human activity, but if surprised or scared by human activity or a mother feeling protective of a calf, an elephant may suddenly charge, which is often very dangerous to a person if they are caught out on foot. Gunfire and other forms of hazing, which are known to be effective in other potentially dangerous wild animals in causing them to avoid humans, can have a negative effect in elephants. Elephants known to be abused by humans in the past are known to occasionally become "rogue elephants", which regularly attack people with no provocation.[64][65][66]


For ivory

Indian - Powder Flask - Walters 71419 - Back
18th century ivory powder flask

The demand for ivory as a result of rapid economic development during the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in East Asia, led to rampant poaching and the serious decline of elephants in many Asian and African range countries. In Thailand, the illegal trade in live elephants and ivory still flourishes. Although the quantity of worked ivory seen openly for sale has decreased substantially since 2001, Thailand still has one of the largest and most active ivory industries seen anywhere in the world. Tusks from Thai poached elephants also enter the market; between 1992 and 1997 at least 24 male elephants were killed for their tusks.[67]

Up to the early 1990s, Vietnamese ivory craftsmen used exclusively Asian elephant ivory from Vietnam and neighbouring Lao PDR and Cambodia. Before 1990, there were few tourists and the low demand for worked ivory could be supplied by domestic elephants. Economic liberalisation and an increase in tourism raised both local and visitors’ demands for worked ivory, which resulted in heavy poaching.[68]

For skin

The latest threat to endangered Asia elephants is high and increasing demand for elephant skin.[69] The skin is used as an ingredient in Chinese medicine as well as in the manufacture of ornamental beads. The practice has been aided by China's State Forestry Administration (SFA), which has issued licences for the manufacture and sale of pharmaceutical products containing elephant skin, thereby making trading legal. In 2010 four skinned elephants were found in a Myanmar forest. Twenty-six elephants were killed by poachers in 2013. The number jumped to 61 in 2016. According to the NGO, Elephant Family, the main source of elephant skin is, at present, Myanmar, where a poaching crisis has developed rapidly since 2010.[70]

Handling methods

Young elephants are captured and illegally imported to Thailand from Myanmar for use in the tourism industry; calves are used mainly in amusement parks and are trained to perform various stunts for tourists.[67]

The calves are often subjected to a 'breaking in' process, which may involve being tied up, confined, starved, beaten and tortured; as a result, two-thirds may perish.[71] Handlers use a technique known as the training crush, in which "handlers use sleep-deprivation, hunger, and thirst to "break" the elephants' spirit and make them submissive to their owners"; moreover, handlers drive nails into the elephants' ears and feet.[72]


Elephas maximus is listed on CITES Appendix I.[3]

Asian elephants are quintessential flagship species, deployed to catalyze a range of conservation goals, including:

  • habitat conservation at landscape scales[73][74]
  • generating public awareness of conservation issues[56]
  • mobilization as a popular cultural icon both in India and the West[73][74]

In captivity

Devi AsianElephant SanDiegoZoo 20071230 RockingBehaviour
Rhythmic swaying behaviour is not reported in free ranging wild elephants and may be symptomatic of psychological disorders.

About half of the global zoo elephant population is kept in European zoos, where they have about half the median life span of conspecifics in protected populations in range countries. This discrepancy is clearest in Asian elephants: infant mortality is twice that seen in Burmese timber camps, and adult survivorship in zoos has not improved significantly in recent years. One risk factor for Asian zoo elephants is being moved between institutions, with early removal from the mother tending to have additional adverse effects. Another risk factor is being born into a zoo rather than being imported from the wild, with poor adult survivorship in zoo-born Asians apparently being conferred prenatally or in early infancy. Likely causes for compromised survivorship is stress and/or obesity.[75]

Demographic analysis of captive Asian elephants in North America indicates that the population is not self-sustaining. First year mortality is nearly 30 per cent, and fecundity is extremely low throughout the prime reproductive years.[76] Data from North American and European regional studbooks from 1962 to 2006 were analysed for deviation of the birth and juvenile death sex ratio. Of 349 captive calves born, 142 died prematurely. They died within one month of birth, major causes being stillbirth and infanticide by either the calf's mother or by one of the exhibition mates. The sex ratio of stillbirths in Europe was found to have a tendency for excess of males.[77]

In culture

Art hastividyarnava 2
A folio from the Hastividyarnava manuscript

The elephant plays an important part in the culture of the subcontinent and beyond, being featured prominently in the Panchatantra fables and the Buddhist Jataka tales. They play a major role in Hinduism: the god Ganesha's head is that of an elephant, and the "blessings" of a temple elephant are highly valued. Elephants are frequently used in processions where the animals are adorned with festive outfits.

The elephant is depicted in several Indian manuscripts and treatises. Notable amongst these is the Matanga Lila (elephant sport) of Nilakantha.[78] The manuscript Hastividyarnava is from Assam in northeast India.

In the Burmese, Thai and Sinhalese animal and planetary zodiac, the elephant, both tusked and tuskless, are the fourth and fifth animal zodiacs of the Burmese, the fourth animal zodiac of the Thai, and the second animal zodiac of the Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka.[79] Similarly, the elephant is the twelfth animal zodiac in the Dai animal zodiac of the Dai people in southern China.[80]

See also


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Further reading

  • Gilchrist, W. (1851) A Practical Treatise on the Treatment of the Diseases of the Elephant, Camel & Horned Cattle: with instructions for improving their efficiency; also, a description of the medicines used in the treatment of their diseases; and a general outline of their anatomy. Calcutta: Military Orphan Press
  • Miall, L. C.; Greenwood, F. (1878). Anatomy of the Indian Elephant. London: Macmillan and Co.
  • Williamson, J.H. (1950). Elephant Bill.

External links

African elephant

African elephants are elephants of the genus Loxodonta. The genus consists of two extant species: the African bush elephant, L. africana, and the smaller African forest elephant, L. cyclotis. Loxodonta (from Greek λοξός, loxós: 'slanting, crosswise, oblique sided' + ὀδούς, odoús: stem odónt-, 'tooth') is one of two existing genera of the family Elephantidae. Fossil remains of Loxodonta have been found only in Africa, in strata as old as the middle Pliocene. However, sequence analysis of DNA extracted from fossils of the extinct straight-tusked elephant undermines the validity of the genus.

Borneo elephant

The Borneo elephant, also called the Borneo pygmy elephant, is a subspecies of Asian elephant that inhabits northeastern Borneo, in Indonesia and Malaysia. Its origin remains the subject of debate. A definitive subspecific classification as Elephas maximus borneensis awaits a detailed range-wide morphometric and genetic study. Since 1986, Elephas maximus has been listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List as the population has declined by at least 50% over the last three generations, estimated to be 60–75 years. The species is pre-eminently threatened by habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation.The Sultan of Sulu introduced captive elephants to Borneo in the 18th century, which were released into the jungle. Comparison of the Borneo elephant population to putative source populations in DNA analysis indicates that the Borneo elephants are derived from Sundaic stock and indigenous to Borneo. The genetic divergence of Borneo elephants warrants their recognition as a separate evolutionarily significant unit.


Elephants are large mammals of the family Elephantidae in the order Proboscidea. Three species are currently recognised: the African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana), the African forest elephant (L. cyclotis), and the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus). Elephants are scattered throughout sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Elephantidae is the only surviving family of the order Proboscidea; other, now extinct, members of the order include deinotheres, gomphotheres, mastodons, anancids and stegodontids; Elephantidae itself also contains several now extinct groups, such as the mammoths and straight-tusked elephants.

All elephants have several distinctive features, the most notable of which is a long trunk (also called a proboscis), used for many purposes, particularly breathing, lifting water, and grasping objects. Their incisors grow into tusks, which can serve as weapons and as tools for moving objects and digging. Elephants' large ear flaps help to control their body temperature. Their pillar-like legs can carry their great weight. African elephants have larger ears and concave backs while Asian elephants have smaller ears and convex or level backs.

Elephants are herbivorous and can be found in different habitats including savannahs, forests, deserts, and marshes. They prefer to stay near water. They are considered to be a keystone species due to their impact on their environments. Other animals tend to keep their distance from elephants while predators, such as lions, tigers, hyenas, and any wild dogs, usually target only young elephants (or "calves"). Elephants have a fission–fusion society in which multiple family groups come together to socialise. Females ("cows") tend to live in family groups, which can consist of one female with her calves or several related females with offspring. The groups are led by an individual known as the matriarch, often the oldest cow.

Males ("bulls") leave their family groups when they reach puberty and may live alone or with other males. Adult bulls mostly interact with family groups when looking for a mate and enter a state of increased testosterone and aggression known as musth, which helps them gain dominance and reproductive success. Calves are the centre of attention in their family groups and rely on their mothers for as long as three years. Elephants can live up to 70 years in the wild. They communicate by touch, sight, smell, and sound; elephants use infrasound, and seismic communication over long distances. Elephant intelligence has been compared with that of primates and cetaceans. They appear to have self-awareness and show empathy for dying or dead individuals of their kind.

African elephants are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) while the Asian elephant is classed as endangered. One of the biggest threats to elephant populations is the ivory trade, as the animals are poached for their ivory tusks. Other threats to wild elephants include habitat destruction and conflicts with local people. Elephants are used as working animals in Asia. In the past, they were used in war; today, they are often controversially put on display in zoos, or exploited for entertainment in circuses. Elephants are highly recognisable and have been featured in art, folklore, religion, literature, and popular culture.

Elephants in Kerala culture

This article covers the role of elephants (Indian Elephant, Elephas maximus indicus) in the culture of Kerala state, southern India.

Elephants found in Kerala, the Indian Elephants, are one of three recognized subspecies of the Asian elephant. Since 1986, Asian Elephant has been listed as endangered by IUCN as the population has declined by at least 50% over the last three generations, estimated to be 25,600 to 32,750 in the wild. The species is pre-eminently threatened by habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation. Along with a large population of wild elephants, Kerala has more than seven hundred domesticated elephants. Most of them are owned by temples and individuals. They are used for religious ceremonies in and around the temples, and some churches and mosques also, and a few elephants work at timber yards.

Elephants in Kerala are often referred to as the "sons of the sahya"(cf. poem Sahyante Makan by Vyloppalli Sreedhara Menon). As the State Animal, the elephant is featured on the emblem of the Government of Kerala state, taken from the Royal Arms of both Travancore and Cochin. It is believed that an elephant that has been captured in the wild, and domesticated, will never be accepted by other wild elephants. A special bond exists between the mahout and the elephant, and an elephant is known to guard its mahout faithfully.


Elephas is one of two surviving genera in the family of elephants, Elephantidae, with one surviving species, the Asian elephant, Elephas maximus.Several extinct species have been identified as belonging to the genus, including Elephas recki, Elephas antiquus and the dwarf elephants E. falconeri and E. cypriotes. The genus is very closely related to the mammoth genus, Mammuthus.

Flagship species

In conservation biology, a flagship species is a species chosen to raise support for biodiversity conservation in a given place or social context. Definitions have varied, but they have tended to focus on the strategic goals and the socio-economic nature of the concept, to support the marketing of a conservation effort. The species need to be popular, to work as symbols or icons, and to stimulate people to provide money or support.

Species selected since the idea was developed in 1980s include widely recognised and charismatic species like the black rhinoceros, the Bengal tiger, and the Asian elephant. More locally significant species like the Chesapeake blue crab and the Pemba flying fox have suited a cultural and social context.

Utilizing a flagship species has limitations. It can skew management and conservation priorities, which may conflict. Stakeholders may be negatively affected if the flagship species is lost. The use of a flagship may have limited effect, and the approach may not protect the species from extinction: all of the top ten charismatic groups of animal including tigers, lions, elephants and giraffes are endangered.

Houston Zoo

The Houston Zoo is a 55-acre (22 ha) zoological park located within Hermann Park in Houston, Texas, United States. The zoo houses over 6,000 animals from 900 species. It receives 2.1 million visitors each year and is the second most visited zoo in the United States. It is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

The Houston Zoo's mission statement is "The Houston Zoo connects communities with animals, inspiring action to save wildlife."

The zoo has been operated by the non-profit corporation Houston Zoo Inc. since 2002, and was previously operated by the City of Houston.

Indian elephant

The Indian elephant (Elephas maximus indicus) is one of three extant recognized subspecies of the Asian elephant and native to mainland Asia.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.

Lin Wang

Lin Wang (Chinese: 林旺; pinyin: Lín Wàng; Zhuyin Fuhao: ㄌ一ㄣˊ ㄨㄤˋ; 29 October 1917 – 26 February 2003) was an Asian elephant that served with the Chinese Expeditionary Force during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) and later relocated to Taiwan with the Kuomintang forces. Lin Wang lived out most of his life in the Taipei Zoo and unquestionably was the most popular and famous animal in Taiwan. Many adults and children alike affectionately called the bull elephant "Grandpa Lin Wang."

List of fictional pachyderms

This list of fictional pachyderms is a subsidiary to the List of fictional ungulates. Characters from various fictional works are organized by medium.

Outside strict biological classification, the term "pachyderm" is commonly used to describe elephants, rhinoceroses, and hippopotamuses; this list also includes extinct mammals such as woolly mammoths, mastodons, etc.

List of individual elephants

This is a list of non-fictional historical elephants by name.


Motty (11 July 1978, Chester Zoo, Cheshire – 23 July 1978, Chester Zoo, Cheshire) was the only proven hybrid between an Asian and an African elephant. He was named after George Mottershead, who founded the Chester Zoo in 1931. The male calf was born on 11 July 1978 in Chester Zoo, to Asian mother Sheba and African father Jumbolino.

Palaeoloxodon recki

Palaeoloxodon recki is an extinct species related to the Asian elephant Elephas maximus. At up to 14 feet (4.27 metres) in shoulder height, it was one of the largest elephant species to have ever lived. It is believed that P. recki ranged throughout Africa between 3.5 and 1 million years ago. The Asian Elephant is the closest living relative of P. recki. P. recki was a successful grass-eating elephant that lived throughout the Pliocene and the Pleistocene until it was pushed to extinction, perhaps by competition with members of the genus Loxodonta, the African elephants of today.

A male of P. recki from Koobi Fora was 40 years old when it died. At that age it was 4.27 metres (14.0 ft) tall and weighed 12.3 tonnes (12.1 long tons; 13.6 short tons).. The species is known from the Middle Atlas of Morocco.

Pygmy elephant

Pygmy elephants live in both Africa and Asia. The African pygmy elephant, formerly described as "Loxodonta pumilio", is currently considered to be a tiny morph of the African forest elephant (L. cyclotis).

The Borneo elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis), a well-documented variety of elephant, is also called "pygmy elephant." This elephant, inhabiting tropical rainforest in north Borneo (east Sabah and extreme north Kalimantan), was long thought to be identical to the Asian elephant and descended from a captive population. In 2003, DNA comparison revealed them to be probably a new subspecies.The term pygmy elephant should not be confused with "dwarf elephant", which is used for a number of extinct species of elephants that evolved their size due to island dwarfing.

Sri Lankan elephant

The Sri Lankan elephant (Elephas maximus maximus) is one of three recognized subspecies of the Asian elephant, and native to Sri Lanka. Since 1986, Elephas maximus has been listed as endangered by IUCN as the population has declined by at least 50% over the last three generations, estimated to be 60–75 years. The species is primarily threatened by habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation.Elephas maximus maximus is the type subspecies of the Asian elephant, first described by Carl Linnaeus under the binominal Elephas maximus in 1758.The Sri Lankan elephant population is now largely restricted to the dry zone in the north, east and southeast of Sri Lanka. Elephants are present in Udawalawe National Park, Yala National Park, Lunugamvehera National Park, Wilpattu National Park and Minneriya National Park but also live outside protected areas. It is estimated that Sri Lanka has the highest density of elephants in Asia. Human-elephant conflict is increasing due to conversion of elephant habitat to settlements and permanent cultivation.

Sumatran elephant

The Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus) is one of three recognized subspecies of the Asian elephant, and native to the Indonesia island of Sumatra. In 2011, the Sumatran elephant has been classified as critically endangered by IUCN as the population has declined by at least 80% over the last three generations, estimated to be about 75 years. The subspecies is pre-eminently threatened by habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation, and poaching; over 69% of potential elephant habitat has been lost within the last 25 years. Much of the remaining forest cover is in blocks smaller than 250 km2 (97 sq mi), which are too small to contain viable elephant populations.

Taronga Zoo Sydney

Taronga Zoo Sydney is a zoo located in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia in the suburb of Mosman, on the shores of Sydney Harbour.

It was officially opened on 7 October 1916. Taronga Zoo Sydney is managed by the Zoological Parks Board of New South Wales, under the trading name Taronga Conservation Society, along with its sister zoo, the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo.

Divided into eight zoogeographic regions, the 28-hectare (69-acre) Taronga Zoo Sydney is home to over 4,000 animals of 350 species. It has a zoo shop, a cafe, and information centre.

Vĩnh Cửu District

Vĩnh Cửu is a rural district of Đồng Nai Province in the Southeast region of Vietnam. As of 2003 the district had a population of 106,067. The district covers an area of 1122 km². The district capital lies at Vĩnh An.The Vĩnh Cửu nature reserve is an area of (mostly secondary) seasonal tropical forest and links directly with Cát Tiên National Park; together they provide contiguous habitat for a number of endangered species including yellow-cheeked gibbons, guar and Asian elephant. The Trị An lake (hồ) and dam form a substantial part of this district.

Wildlife of Cambodia

The wildlife of Cambodia is very diverse with a registered 212 mammal species, 536 bird species, 176 reptile species (including 89 subspecies), 850 freshwater fish species (Tonlé Sap Lake area), and 435 marine fish species. An unknown amount of species remains to be described by science, especially the insect group of butterflies and moths, collectively known as lepidopterans. Many of the species in the country, including several endemic ones, are recognized by the IUCN or World Conservation Union as threatened, endangered, or critically endangered due to deforestation and habitat destruction, poaching, the illegal wildlife trade, and farming, fishing, and forestry concessions. Intensive poaching may have already driven Cambodia's national animal, the kouprey, to extinction, and wild tigers, Eld's deer, wild water buffaloes and hog deer are at critically low numbers.

Wildlife in Cambodia includes dholes, elephants, deer (sambar, Eld's deer, hog deer and muntjac), wild oxen (banteng and gaur), panthers, bears, and tigers. Cormorants, cranes, ibises, parrots, green peafowl, pheasants, and wild ducks are also found, and species of venomous snakes and constrictors are numerous. Deforestation, mining activities, and unregulated hunting, have diminished the country’s wildlife diversity rapidly.

Cambodia also has many endangered species. Cambodia has 16 globally endangered species and two critically endangered species. Some of Cambodia's endangered species are the Asian elephant, Siamese crocodile, wild water buffalo, and the Germain's silver langur.

Much work is being done in this area to help conserve and protect Cambodia's unique wildlife. Wildlife conservation organizations operating in Cambodia include Conservation International, World Wildlife Fund, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Fauna and Flora International, BirdLife International, Wildlife Alliance, and many others. On 20 December 2016, 163 new animal species were reported in Southeast Asia including one known as the Klingon newt for its resemblance to a Klingon from Star Trek.

Human use
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Extant Proboscidea species by family

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