Indian elephant, Asian elephant ; Eléphant d'Inde (Fr); Elefante Asiático (Sp)
Elephas maximus indicus
20,000 - 25,000
South Asia, eastern Asia
Elephants are an important cultural icon in India. According to Indian mythology, the gods (deva) and the demons (asura) churned the oceans in a search for the elixir of life - 'amrit' (nectar) - so that they would become immortal. As they did so, the 'navratnas' (nine jewels) surfaced, one of which was the elephant.
Consequently, the elephant is extremely valuable, and therefore must be treasured, preserved and protected, just as a jewel would be.
The Indian elephant is up to 6.4m in length and around 2-3.5m in height.
The skin colour of Indian elephants is dark grey to brown, with patches of pink on the forehead, the ears, the base of the trunk and chest.
Habitat & Ecology
Asian elephants are extremely sociable, forming groups of 6 to 7 related females that are led by the oldest female, the 'matriarch'. Like African elephants, these groups occasionally join others to form herds, although these associations are relatively transient.
Young Asian elephants are reported to stand soon after birth and can follow their mother in her daily routine after a few days. It stays under supervision of its mother for several years, but begins making independent movements at 4 years.
Both sexes may become sexually mature at as early as 9 years, but males usually do not reach sexual activity until 14-15 years.
When the habitat conditions are favourable, female elephants may give birth to a calf every 2.5-4 years, otherwise every 5-8 years. Asian elephants give birth to one calf weighing 50-150 kg.
More than two thirds of the day may be spent feeding on grasses, but large amounts of tree bark, roots, leaves and small stems are also eaten. Cultivated crops such as bananas, rice and sugarcane are favoured foods. Because they need to drink at least once a day, the species are always close to a source of fresh water.
Population & Distribution
India has by far the largest remaining populations of Indian elephant (estimated at around 57% of the total). Small populations of the subspecies are also found on the Andaman Islands and in Borneo. There are four populations and ten sub populations of the mainland Indian elephant, distributed in the South, Central, Northwest and Northeast regions in India.
- The southern population is distributed in the forests of Western and Eastern Ghats in the states of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
- The north western population spans the Terai forest regions of Uttar Pradesh along the foothills of Himalayas.
- The north-eastern population is found at the Himalayan foothills of Bhutan and north -west Bengal eastwards into the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya.
Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, India, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Viet Nam
South Asia, eastern Asia
Eastern Deccan Plateau Moist Forests, Chhota-Nagpur Dry Forests, Kayah-Karen / Tenasserim Moist Forests, Northeast Borneo, Peninsular Malaysian Lowland and Mountain Forests, Cardamom Mountains Moist Forests, Indochina Dry Forests, Annamite Range Moist Forests, Mekong River, Northern Indochina Subtropical Moist Forests, Salween River , Southwestern Ghats Moist Forests.
What are the main threats?
In south Asia, it is the quest for land by an ever increasing human population that causes many illegal encroachments in elephant habitat, thus causing habitat loss and fragmentation. In some cases, it is development activities, such as roads, railway tracks, in crucial corridor areas that fragment the habitat.
What is WWF doing?
Through the Asian Rhinos and Elephants Action Strategy (AREAS), WWF invests each year into anti-poaching operations, and the programme is currently helping to develop an anti-poaching strategy.