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The continually growing human population of tropical Asia has encroached on the elephant's dense but dwindling forest habitat. About 20% of the world's human population lives in or near the present range of the Asian elephant.

© WWF-International

Indian elephants (Elephas maximus bengalensis) carrying their trainers across a river at the Thai ... rel= © WWF / Martin HARVEY

Habitat loss and conflict with communities

In the face of rapidly growing human populations, the Asian elephants' habitat is shrinking fast and wild elephant populations are mostly small, isolated, and unable to mingle as ancient migratory routes are cut off by human settlements.

Large development projects (such as dams, roads, mines and industrial complexes), plantations and spreading human settlements have fragmented what was once contiguous elephant habitat into small fragments.

Incidents of elephants raiding crops and villages are on the rise. This causes losses to human property and, sometimes, human lives. Retaliation by villagers often results in killings of these elephants. Experts already consider such confrontations to be the leading cause of elephant deaths in Asia.

In some countries, the government provides compensation for crop damage or deaths caused by elephants, but there is still often strong political pressure on wildlife authorities to eliminate elephants near populated regions. As human populations increase, human-elephant conflicts are likely to increase.

Illegal hunting and trade

In Asian elephants, only males carry tusks and therefore poaching is aimed exclusively at males. Selective removal of tuskers for their ivory may lead to an increase in the proportion of tuskless males in the population.

Poaching of Asian elephants for ivory remains a threat in some countries. However, most illegal ivory currently come from African sources, rather than from Asian elephants.

Elephants are also taken from the wild for the live elephant trade – primarily going to Thailand for the tourism industry.

India, Vietnam, and Myanmar have banned capture in order to conserve their wild herds, but in Myanmar elephants are still caught each year for the timber industry or the illegal wildlife trade.

Unfortunately, crude capture methods have led to a high mortality level. Efforts are being made not only to improve methods but also to encourage captive breeding rather than taking from the wild.
Indian elephant (Elephas maximus bengalensis); radio collared adult female with juvenile killed ... 
© A. Christy Williams / WWF
Indian elephant (Elephas maximus bengalensis); radio collared adult female with juvenile killed after being run over by a speeding train fragmenting their habitat in Rajaji National Park, India.
© A. Christy Williams / WWF


 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.