Sumatran elephant

The smallest of the Asian elephants, the Sumatran elephant is facing serious pressures arising from illegal logging and habitat loss from palm oil plantations.

 / ©: WWF-International
© WWF-International
Sumatran forest elephant (Elephas maximus sumatrensis) bathing, Gunung Leseur NP, Sumatra, Indonesia rel=
Sumatran forest elephant (Elephas maximus sumatrensis) bathing, Gunung Leseur National Park, Sumatra, Indonesia
© Garbutt / WWF

Key Facts

  • Common name

    Sumatran elephant

  • Scientific name

    Elephas maximus sumatranus

  • Location

    Sumatra, western Indonesia

  • Population

    Approximately 2,400 to 2,800 individuals

  • Status

    Critically endangered


Physical description 

Sumatran elephants are the smallest of the Asian elephants. Males rarely develop long tusks, while those of adult females may be so short that they are hidden by the upper lip. This elephant can live up to 70 years in captivity.

Size: 1.7-2.6 m at the shoulder

Colour: Lightest of all Asian elephants

Living close to rivers

Sumatran elephants are found in lowland forest close to rivers, although they may also be found in hill forests on a seasonal basis.

The Sumatran elephant feeds on green vegetation and may eat up to 200 kg of food a day, namely bananas, ginger, young bamboo and leaves of a variety of vines.

Population & distribution

Sumatran elephants were once widespread on Sumatra.  Today, however, the subspecies only survives highly fragmented populations.  Within the last 25 years, the elephants have lost 70% of their habitat.

What are the main threats? 

As for all subspecies of Asian elephants, the Sumatran elephant is threatened by poaching and habitat loss.  According to IUCN, 85% of the animal's remaining habitat is unprotected and likely to be converted for agriculture or other purposes.

Specific problems are associated with forest conversion to plantation development. As forests shrink, elephants are increasingly closer to fields and cultivated land, generating conflict with humans that often results in the death of the elephants by poisoning or capture, as well as economic losses to humans. 

 / ©: WWF-Indonesia/Samsul Komar
Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatrensis).
© WWF-Indonesia/Samsul Komar


Major habitat type
Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests

Biogeographic realm

Range States

Geographical Location
Sumatra, western Indonesia

Ecological Region
Sumatran Islands Lowland and Montane Forests

What is WWF doing?

We are working with partners in Sumatra to prevent destruction of forest habitat and secure well-managed protected areas and wider forest landscapes connected by corridors.

Our work to conserve Sumatran elephant habitat focuses on the island's central Riau province - an area with one of the fastest rates of deforestation in Indonesia.

By carrying out research on elephants and the nature of the conflicts, and working with local communities and companies, WWF is developing solutions that ensure living space for both humans and elephants.

Successes to date include:

» More on our elephant work in Riau, Sumatra
» WWF Asian Rhinos and Elephants Action Strategy (AREAS)


Share on Tumblr

How you can help


  •  The WWF Wildlife Crime Scorecard report selects 23 range, transit and consumer countries from Asia and Africa facing the highest levels of illegal trade in elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Donate to WWF

Your support will help us build a future where humans live in harmony with nature.

Enter Yes if you accept the terms and conditions
Enter Yes if you accept the terms and conditions