CONTENTS

Living OrganismsAnimalia / Craniata / Mammalia / Proboscidea / Elephantidae / Elephas / Species

Elephas maximus - Asian Elephant (Click photographs/illustrations: full picture & further details)

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INDEX - INFORMATION AVAILABLE

GENERAL & REFERENCES

APPEARANCE / MORPHOLOGY

LIFE STAGES / NATURAL DIET / PHYSIOLOGY

BEHAVIOUR

HABITAT & RANGE

CONSERVATION

 

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General and References

Alternative Names (Synonyms)

Indian elephant. (B51)
  • Ana (Mal.) (B392.15.w15)
  • Anai (Tamil) (B392.15.w15)
  • Ane (Kan.) (B392.15.w15)
  • Elefante Asiático (Spanish) (W2)
  • Eléphant D'asie (French) (W2)
  • Eléphant D'inde (French) (W2)
  • Gaja (Sanskrit) (B392.15.w15)
  • Hasti (Sanskrit) (B392.15.w15)
  • Hathi (male), hathni (female) (Hindi) (B392.15.w15)
  • Hatti (Mar.) (B392.15.w15)
  • Tor sin (Bur.) (B392.15.w15)

Alternative species names (the second part of the binomial species names): [Genus] asiaticus, [Genus] asurus, [Genus] bengalensis, [Genus] birmanicus, [Genus] borneensis, [Genus] ceylanicus, [Genus] dakhunensis, [Genus] dauntela, [Genus] gigas, [Genus] heterodactylus, [Genus] hirsutus, [Genus] indicus, [Genus] isodactylus, [Genus] mukna, [Genus] rubridens, [Genus] sinhaleyus, [Genus] sondaicus, [Genus] sumatranus, [Genus] vilaliya, [Genus] zeylandicus (B141)

See Elephas page for alternative genus names.

Names for new-borns / juveniles

Calf
Names for males Bull
Names for females Cow

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General Appearance

Adult: Asian elephants are very large mammals with nearly hairless grey or brown skin, columnar legs, and a huge head, on a short neck, bearing large fan-like ears and a prehensile trunk - modified from the upper lip and nose and reaching to the ground. (B147, B212.w5, B453.Intro.w13, B285.w3)

Newborn: Newborn calves are similar to adults, but with more hair, a relatively small head and a shorter trunk. (B212.w5, B212.w11)

Similar Species

  • Asian elephants are distinguished from African elephants (Loxodonta spp.) by:
    • Being highest at the head, not the shoulder, with the back being convex or straight rather than concave.
    • Shorter legs and a more squat appearance, the African elephants appearing leaner;
    • A flat or dished, rather than convex, forehead, and lateral bulges to the forehead, giving a square outline of the head, compared to the more sloping forehead and triangular head outline on side view in African elephants;
    • Smaller ears;
    • Only one, dorsal, process or lip on the end of the trunk rather than the two processes (one dorsal, one ventral) on the trunk of African elephants;
    • Females, and some males, lack tusks, having only small tushes, while in African elephants usually both males and females bear tusks.
    • 19 not 21 pairs of ribs and 33 not a maximum of 26 caudal vertebrae.

    (B147, B285.w3, B384.3.w3, B451.1.w1)

Sexual Dimorphism
  • Males grow larger than do females. (B10.49.w21, B147, B384.6.w6)
  • Males may or may not have tusks; females never have tusks but only short tushes. (B147, B384.13.w13)
  • Cows can also be distinguished by the presence of mammary glands just behind the front legs. (B453.Intro.w13)

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References

Species Authors & Referees

Editor: Dr Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)

ORGANISATIONS

ELECTRONIC LIBRARY
(Further Reading)
Click image for full contents list of ELECTRONIC LIBRARY

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Husbandry Information

Notes

Detailed information is available for this species from:

Management Techniques

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Appearance / Morphology

Measurement & Weight

EDITORIAL SUMMARY The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

LENGTH
Adult: 
Head and body length 5.5 to 6.4 metres (18 - 21 feet).

  • Note: "body length" is defined differently in different texts. Mammalogists refer to the "head and body length" of an animal, from the nose tip to the base of the tail; these lengths are given in the species pages. This is NOT the same as the various "body length" measurements used for weight estimation, indicated in the page Medicating Elephants (Techniques Overview).

Newborns: The length of a newborn (stillborn) calf was 95 inches (241 cm) from trunk tip to tail tip (the trunk was 21 inches i.e. 53.5 cm long).

HEIGHT
Adults: Adult elephants may reach 2.0 - 3.5 m at the shoulder. Average heights of 2.35 m for females, 2.7 m for males have been suggested.
Juveniles: 
Calves are about 0.9 - 1.0 m in height at birth (another reference suggests 0.76 - 0.915 m (30 - 36 inches)).

WEIGHT
Adult: 
A range of 2,000 to 5,500 kg has been suggested, but only up to 4,000 in Elephas maximus sumatranus. Adult males may weigh about 5,400 kg while adult females weigh on average about 2,700 kg, with a suggested maximum of 4.16 tonnes. 
Newborns: 
Calves usually weigh about 90 - 125 kg at birth; a wide range has been suggested of as little as 50 kg and as much as possibly 150 kg. It has been noted that the birth weight is about 3.5% of the mother's body weight. Calves born in zoos and circuses may have higher birth weights (average 106 kg) than those born to working elephants in Asia (average 74 kg).

GROWTH RATE Calves may grow at about 2.0 - 3.0 cm per month with adequate nutrition. Growth rate is faster in males than in females, with growth of females levelling off between 15 and 30 years while that of males levels off later.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports Literature Reports: Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - Appearance-Morphology- Measurement and Weight

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Head and Neck

EDITORIAL SUMMARY The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

Adult: Elephants have a huge head on a short neck. The ears of the Asian elephant are large and fan-like although smaller than the ears of Loxodonta. The elephant's trunk is derived from the upper lip and nose, extremely elongated and very muscular. On the tip of the trunk are located the nostrils, also a dorsal finger-like projection. It bears sensory hairs and is important in touch and olfaction. The trunk is extremely important for many of the elephant's daily activities. The mouth is relatively small. The elephant's skull is massive, containing many large sinuses which reduce its weight. The brain is situated ventrally towards the back of the skull. The forehead of the Asian elephant is bulbous, due to large sinuses in this region.
Newborn: The newborn elephant has a relatively short trunk. The skull is much smaller, relative to the body, than in the adult, since the huge pneumatisation (expansion of air cavities) of the bones has not yet developed.

DENTITION:
Adult:
Elephants have the dental formula i 1/0, c 0/0, pm 3/3 m 3/3 (one upper incisor - the tusk, no canines, three premolars and three molars, i.e. six cheek teeth). The cheek teeth vary in size, with the first being smallest and the sixth being largest. each bears a number of ridges or laminae. The cheek teeth erupt from the caudal aspect of the jaw and progress forward, coming into wear sequentially, with one, or parts of two, molars in wear at any one time. The worn out tooth has its roots resorbed as it reaches the front of the mouth and the remains of the crown are spat out or swallowed. The tusks are modified upper incisors. Initially they are capped with enamel but this is soon worn away. The main part of the tusk is composed of ivory, a form of dentine with a unique structure. The tusk grows throughout the elephant's life, from odontoblasts lining the sensitive pulp cavity, which contains blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue. Tusks of males grow more in both length and thickness than do those of females. Female Asian elephants, and some males, do not have full tusks but merely small "tushes"; some males do not have even tushes, and some have a single tusk.
Newborn: At birth, the first and second molars are present. Parts of the first three cheek teeth may be in wear at the same time in the calf. The milk tusks cut the gum when the calf is about five to seven months of age while the permanent tusks may be visible by about two or three years of age. 

EYES:
Adult:
The eyes, about the same size as in humans, have a round pupil in a hazel or brown iris. The eyelashes on the upper and lower lids are long. There is no functional lachrymal gland (tear gland) to produce tears nor any tear ducts to take fluid away from the eye. The eyes are moisturised from the secretions of the Harderian gland, which opens on the internal side of the third eyelid (nictitating membrane) and moisture either evaporates or drains down the side of the face.
Newborn:
Elephant calves are precocial, therefore the eyes are open and functional in the newborn calf. 

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports Literature Reports: Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - Appearance-Morphology- Head and Neck

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Legs, Spine and Tracks

EDITORIAL SUMMARY The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

Elephants have quite long legs which are massive and columnar. Externally on the foot the horny sole and the large flat nails form the "hoof slipper"; the sole is normally horny and fissured. Internally, the bones of the digits rest on a large pad of fatty fibroelastic tissue which acts as a shock absorber. As the elephant walks, the sole bulges downwards when lifted off the ground and splays out when weight bearing. The weight is well distributed, so elephants leave less obvious tracks than might be expected. The arrangement of the distal limb bones makes the elephant semi-digitigrade but due to the internal structure with its cushioning tissue, they appear plantigrade. The print of the forefoot is round while that of the hind foot is more oval. There are usually five nails on the forefeet and four on the hind feet but there is some genetic variation in nail number (the number of phalanges does not vary). Elephants walk and do not trot, canter, gallop or jump, however they can reach a respectable pace while walking. The massive limb bones have thick, dense cortices (walls) and are filled with reticulated cancellous bone, lacking marrow cavities.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports Literature Reports: Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - Appearance-Morphology- Legs, Spine and Tracks 

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Tail

EDITORIAL SUMMARY The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

The tail may be up to 1.5 m long; the end is laterally flattened and bears long stiff "plastic wire" hairs, up to 70 cm or perhaps even 100 cm log, oval in cross section, usually black although some may have lost their pigment. Hairs on the ventral (under) side may be longer and be found for a greater distance proximally than those on the dorsal (upper) side.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports Literature Reports: Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - Appearance-Morphology-Tail 

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Skin / Coat / Pelage

EDITORIAL SUMMARY The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

Adult: 

  • Adult elephants are only sparsely haired. As well as the obvious hairs on the tail, hair is present mainly on the forehead, chin and lips, eyelids (eyelashes), knees, around the external ear canal and around the vulva.
  • The skin is usually described as dark grey or brown to grey-black. 
  • There is a panniculus carnosus allowing the elephant to move the skin, but no erector pili muscles to pull the hairs erect.
  • Elephants have mammary glands (a single pair, found just behind the front legs in females) and the unique temporal glands; secretion from this gland may be copious in males in musth.
  • The presence of sebaceous glands and sweat glands has been debated; the presence of sweat underneath harness and a slight secretion over the nails has been reported. Sebaceous glands were detected during dissection of a fetus and a detailed study of the interdigital skin of two elephants detected eccrine type sweat glands but no apocrine glands.

Adult colour variations:

  • In the Asian elephant, nonpigmented areas over the forehead, ears, trunk base and chest are not uncommon. 
  • The true skin colour of elephants is often hidden by the colour that the local soil places on the body.

Newborn/Juvenile:

  • Elephant calves, particularly newborn calves, have much more hair than do adults. This hair may be yellowish or reddish brown. It becomes less obvious as the animal grows.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports Literature Reports: Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - Appearance- Morphology- Skin-Coat-Pelage 

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Detailed Anatomy Notes
(Summary information provided for pertinent species-specific data cross-referenced in Wildpro)

EDITORIAL SUMMARY The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.
  • Elephants show a number of adaptations for their large size. 
  • Elephants have a large brain with a highly convoluted temporal lobe which may be important for storage of social information and information about good feeding areas, dangerous places etc. The olfactory lobe is also large.
  • The respiratory system is notable for the lack of a pleural space between the lungs and the body wall; the lungs are attached to the chest wall and diaphragm by extensive connective tissue; this suggests that diaphragmatic rather than costal movements are important for respiration. The diaphragm extends as far cranially as the second or third rib.
  • The vomeronasal organ is well developed and connects only to the oral cavity, not to the nasal cavity.
  • The heart has a double apex and paired anterior vena cavae. The ductus arteriosus connects between the left pulmonary artery and the aortic arch, as in humans, rather than from the pulmonary trunk to the aortic arch as in other mammals.
  • The digestive system is broadly similar to that of the horse, with a simple, relatively small stomach but a large colon and a very large caecum. There is no gall bladder.
  • The kidneys are retroperitoneal and multi-lobed. The bladder has a capacity of six to 18 litres. In females, the urethra and the vagina both open into the long urogenital canal which opens at the vulva between the hind legs. In males, the urethra extends to the end of the penis. There is no os penis. There is no scrotum, the testes remaining intra-abdominal. There are three types of accessory glands: seminal vesicles, prostate and bulbourethral glands. The uterine horns are joined externally for much of their length but remain separate internally until close to the vagina. The placenta is zonary and non-deciduate. Placental scars remain permanently visible in the uterus. The clitoris is well developed and has a large, erectile corpus cavernosum.
  • The skeleton is well adapted for the size of the animal. The cervical vertebrae are short. The appendicular skeleton forms solid columns, with the glenoid fossa in the scapula and the acetabulum in the pelvis facing downwards, long femur and humerus, both radius and ulna fully present in the forelimb and fibula as well as tibia in the hind limb.
Further information is available within this section on the structure of the brain, respiratory system, vomeronasal organ, cardiovascular system, gastro-intestinal system, liver, spleen, urogenital system (including details of the reproductive systems of adult males and females), skeleton, skin and endocrine glands.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

[See also Book Ref. 212 - Elephants and their Diseases - Part II Chapters I - VIII FULL TEXT INCLUDED]

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports Literature Reports: Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - Detailed Anatomy Notes 

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Life Stages / Natural Diet / Physiology

Life Stages

EDITORIAL SUMMARY The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

BREEDING SEASON: In general there appears to be no set breeding season, however in an area of Sri Lanka with relatively low rainfall most mating occurs in the dry season (June to September), with births then occurring in the October to January rainy season.

OESTRUS/OVULATION: Asian elephants are polyoestrous; the oestrus cycle is about 14 to 16 weeks long with oestrus lasting about four days (range two to eight days).

GESTATION/PREGNANCY: Pregnancy is generally considered to last about 22 months, with some individual variation. Data for elephants in European zoos and circuses suggested a gestation length of about 21.5 months. Exceptionally, gestations of as short as 17 months (resulting in a very weak calf) or as long as 24 months have been reported.

PARTURITION/BIRTH:  Labour is generally short, with perhaps an hour from the first visible contractions to the birth of the calf. Difficult parturitions do occur and if the calving is not successful then the cow elephant may die. Births may occur at any time of year but in areas of low rainfall births may occur more commonly during the rainy season.

NEONATAL/DEVELOPMENT:

  • Elephant calves are on their feet, walking and suckling soon after birth. Calves may be on their feet as soon as five or ten minutes after birth, although other authorities suggest 20 to 30 or even 40 minutes as being usual. It may take a little while after the calf fist stands before it is able to remain on its feet, walk, and reach its mother's nipples to suckle. Suckling generally occurs within about an hour but may not occur until as late as four hours after birth with an inexperienced mother. 
  • Calves receiving adequate nutrition may grow 2.0 - 3.0 cm a month; in hand-reared calves the growth rate may be slower initially but after weaning the growth rate of calves is probably higher in captivity than in the wild, due to better nutrition and reduced parasitism. 
  • The first molar appears by six weeks old and the second molars come into wear at about two years old.
  • Calves suckle with their mouth, not the trunk. They are totally dependant on milk for the first three months, suckling about every 60 - 90 minutes, then start to eat grass and later also browse, with the frequency of suckling decreasing. They continue to suckle to eighteen months, two years old or older; they may suckle even after the next calf is born.
  • Calves are able to follow their mother during her normal activities within two or three days of birth and remain very close for the first three months. Later they play with other calves. 

LITTER SIZE:  There is usually one calf but there a number of records of twins; it has been suggested that twins may occur in about 1% of births.

TIME BETWEEN LITTERS / LITTERS PER YEAR: In favourable conditions calves may be born at intervals of 2.5 to three or four years. Longer inter-calf intervals, up to about 6.5 years may occur.

LACTATION / MILK PRODUCTION:  Lactation continues until shortly before the birth of the next calf; the mammary glands develop visibly about seven weeks before calving. Milk composition varies over the period of lactation, fat content varying from 0.63 - 9.0%, protein from 1.9 - 3.0% and carbohydrates from 4.0 - 8.0 %.

SEXUAL MATURITY: Sexual maturity may be reached in cows as young as nine years old, and is usually later, in the mid to late teens, although a female in captivity was recorded conceiving at seven, with the calf born when the cow was only nine years and one month old. Males may also reach sexual maturity by nine years of age although it is probably usually later, again in the mid teens or later; reaching a condition of sexual dominance required for males to mate successfully is likely not to occur until the bull is at least 20 - 25 years old, unless the population has been depleted of older bulls.

MALE SEASONAL VARIATION: [For a discussion of musth see Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - Sexual Behaviour (Literature Reports)]

LONGEVITY / MORTALITY: The potential life span of the Asian elephant in the wild is perhaps 65 years, although about 50 years may be usual. In captivity a lifespan of 75 or 80 years might be possible. Causes of death in elephants include killing by humans, gastrointestinal tract disorders, pulmonary and respiratory disorders, miscarriage, starvation of old elephants after the last teeth have worn down, accidental falls from steep slopes, injuries from bull fights and occasionally bacterial diseases such as anthrax. The main cause of death in adult elephants is shooting.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports Literature Reports: Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - Life Stages 

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Natural Diet

EDITORIAL SUMMARY The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

NATURAL DIET: Asian elephants eat a wide variety of plants including grasses, shrubs, bamboo etc. While more than 100 different species may be eaten, only about 10 to 25 foods are likely to make up more than 8% of the diet. The percentage of grasses versus browse eaten varies seasonally; the nutrient value of grass is greatest early in the wet season, while that of leafy browse is higher in the dry season. Elephants do show choice in feeding: foods eaten do not necessarily match foods available. Crops such as bananas, sugar cane and paddy are favoured.

QUANTITY EATEN: The daily food requirement for an adult Asian elephants is about 150 kg of food per day, or 60 kg in dry matter terms. About 140 - 200 L of water may be drunk daily. 

STUDY METHODS: Study methods include observation of feeding elephants, examination of an area after elephants have fed there, examination of faeces and examination of stomach contents.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports Literature Reports: Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - Natural Diet 

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Hibernation / Aestivation

EDITORIAL SUMMARY The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

[Not applicable for this species.]

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports Literature Reports: Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - Hibernation - Aestivation 

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Haematology / Biochemistry

EDITORIAL SUMMARY The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

HAEMATOLOGY:

BIOCHEMISTRY:

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports Literature Reports: Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - Haematology / Biochemistry 

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Detailed Physiology Notes
(Summary information provided for pertinent species-specific data cross-referenced in Wildpro)

EDITORIAL SUMMARY The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

METABOLISM (TEMPERATURE): The normal core body temperature of elephants is 36 to 37°C (97 to 99°F). Elephants lose excess heat from the ears, with the vessels on the medial (posterior) surface lying close to the skin and enlarging when the elephant is hot; flapping the ears or holding them out in a breeze increases heat loss. Elephants can also lose heat by evaporation after covering their bodies with water or mud and may cover themselves with dirt to provide protection from the sun. They will stand in shade if available.

RESPIRATORY SYSTEM (RESPIRATION): About 70% of air intake is through the trunk, the rest through the mouth. The normal respiratory rate is four to 12 breaths per minute - at the lower end of this range in a sleeping elephant and at the higher end in an alert elephant. Because of the direct adherence of the lungs to the thoracic wall, respiratory movements are due solely to movements of the chest musculature; breathing is limited if there is restraint on the chest and diaphragm, for example in sternal recumbency, which limits respiration more in the adult than in the calf.

CIRCULATORY SYSTEM (PULSE/HEART RATE): In a calm, standing elephant the heart rate is about 25 - 35 beats per minute. It is increased in recumbent elephants.

GASTROINTESTINAL SYSTEM (FAECES AND GUT MOTILITY): 

  • Elephants defecate about 12 - 30 times per day, producing 4 - 7 boluses of faeces at a time, each weighing one to three kilograms in the adult elephant. 
  • GIT passage time has been measured as 21 to 54.5 hours for a tame female Asian elephant.
  • Elephants show a digestibility for hay of about 44%, compared to values for the same hay in horses (53%), cattle (60%) and sheep (61%).

URINARY SYSTEM (URINE): Elephant urine is straw to amber in colour, clear, or turbid towards the end of urination, slightly acidic and without any unpleasant odour. Elephants may urinate 10 - 14 times daily, voiding five to eleven litres per urination; total discharge is about 50 litres a day. The urine contains large quantities of calcium oxalate, calcium carbonate and amorphous phosphate crystals. 

CHROMOSOMES: 2n = 56 Asian Elephant Chromosomes.

MUSCULO-SKELETAL SYSTEM: Elephants have more fibrous tissue in their muscles than do large domesticated animal species.

SPECIAL SENSES AND VOCALISATIONS: 

  • Elephant vision is reasonable, but is not their primary sense. They have a limited angle of vision. Their vision appears to be better in dim than in bright light. Movement, either rapid or over a large distance, will attract the attention of elephants. They appear to dislike red.
  • Despite its thickness, the whole skin of elephant is sensitive to touch. The sense of touch is particularly well developed in the trunk and especially the trunk tip; the tongue also has many sensory endings for touch. Bristles on the trunk are probably tactile and the facial hairs may also serve this function, similarly to whiskers in cats. Tactile information, along with olfactory information, is gathered when elephants extend their trunk to another elephant's body.
  • Olfaction is a well-developed and important sense in the elephant - probably the most important sense. Elephants gather information about scents on the breeze, holding up the trunk tip and also use the trunk to gather olfactory information about other elephants and their urine, faeces etc.
  • Elephants have well developed hearing. The range of hearing of elephants is about 17 Hz to 10.5 KHz; the ear pinna is used to accurately determine the direction of sounds.
  • Elephants appear to have a good sense of taste.
  • Elephants produce a wide variety of sounds, some originating in the larynx, others in the trunk.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports Literature Reports: Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - Detailed Physiology Notes 

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Behaviour

Feeding Behaviour

EDITORIAL SUMMARY The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

Elephants are generalist feeders, using vegetation from ground level up to about 10 feet off the ground. Long grasses are pulled up by the trunk and inserted in the mouth. To eat short grasses, the elephant kicks at the ground, loosening the grasses including their roots, scrapes a pile of grass together then sweeps the pile up with its trunk. Branches and twigs are held with the forefeet while the trunk removes smaller pieces. To eat bark, a large branch is broken from the tree and held with the feet, then smaller pieces are broken off, inserted in the mouth and a turning movement of the trunk tip is used to turn the branch between the teeth or a tush, stripping the bark off. Different parts of a plant may be eaten at different times of the year, for example for tall grass, the tops of the tender growing blades, or the main part of the leaves, or when the leaves have grown fibrous, the more succulent bases and roots. Feeding rates of Asian elephants may vary from as low as one mouthful per two minutes to as high as 2.5 mouthfuls per minute (and three mouthfuls per minute, of two or three fruits at a time, for an elephant eating fallen tamarind). Feeding rates may be affected by hunger as well as by the amount of preparation required for a food item to be eaten.

Asian elephants drink daily, using their trunk to suck up water then transferring it to the mouth. Juveniles of about five years old have been seen to walk into water and drink directly with the mouth. If no surface water is available, elephants dig holes in sandy stream beds to reach water. 

Further information on diet is provided in Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - Natural Diet (Literature Reports)

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports Literature Reports: Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - Feeding Behaviour 

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Parental Behaviour

EDITORIAL SUMMARY The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

Elephants have a strong mother-calf bond and the mother supervises her calf for several years. Mothers have on occasion been observed carrying very young calves. A mother elephant often allows her calf to eat food which she has collected for herself. Mothers are very protective of their calves. A straying calf may be pulled back with the trunk. Another female, usually one which is not lactating, often acts as an allomother to the calf, providing additional protection. Calf care appears to be shared between the females of a group. Suckling of another calf (not her own) by an adult female has been observed.

Further information on reproduction is provided in Asian Elephant Elephas maximus- Life Stages (Literature Reports)

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports Literature Reports: Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - Parental Behaviour

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Social Behaviour / Territoriality / Predation / Learning

EDITORIAL SUMMARY The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

Home range sizes are variable, for example only 10 to 17 square kilometres for male elephants in Sri Lanka, but at least 170 - 200 km² for three bulls in southern India. For females, ranges recorded include 25 km² for a herd of 23 (females and young) in the wet season, 64 km² in the dry season; in India, family ranges of 180 - 600 km² have been measured. Home ranges are likely to be larger in less good habitat and in the dry rather than the wet season. Different portions of a home range may be used in the wet season compared with the dry season, Seasonal movements do occur, for example in Sri Lanka dispersed herds have been noted to gather into clans and move from an area used in one season to a new area for the following season.

Population densities vary depending on the area and season, from as low as 0.12 elephants per square kilometer to as high as four per km² and even temporary aggregations at seven per km² . 

There is no evidence of territoriality. Ranges of individual bulls overlap extensively.

Female elephants remain with their natal herd, but males disperse, leaving the natal herd at puberty. While adult males appear to be resident, some subadult males appear to be transients through an area, which may indicate dispersal from the natal area; this would reduce inbreeding.

Individual elephants may be identified by natural markings, or by artificial markings. More information may be gained using radio tracking, with units attached to collars; recently, GPS has been used

When a group of elephants is threatened, they typically form a defensive circle, with calves in the centre of the group. The matriarch then investigates the threat.

Elephants are social animals. They communicate with one another using sight, sound, scent and touch. Elephant society is primarily matriarchal. Family groups of up to three adult females plus their offspring appear to be very stable; such groups may join temporarily with other groups (probably related), for example at a water hole or an open grassy area. Herds may gather for example when moving from one area to another, or at a particular food source. One study in Sri Lanka suggested that within a herd the elephants may split into "nursing units" of females with suckling calves and "juvenile care units" of females with older calves, with further splitting into subunits while foraging, but remaining in close proximity to one another and units of a given herd occupying a distinct range.

Bull elephants leave the family group at puberty and may then be found alone or in bull groups of up to seven elephants. Bulls do not appear to have particular attachments, but are generally found relatively close to one another. They are sometimes found with family groups, mainly when a female is in oestrus. 

The dominant individual in a group of males is generally recognised. Serious fights are rare but do occur and severe, even fatal, wounds may be caused by the tusks, however tuskless males do not appear to be disadvantaged in fights. Musth affects the dominance hierarchy; a musth bull usually wins encounters with a non-musth bull, even if the non-musth bull is larger. Generally, non-musth bulls avoid musth bulls and musth bulls avoid one another.

Elephant calves may be predated by tigers. They and their mothers (injured while defending their calves) may die from infected wounds from tigers. Indian rhinos may also attack elephants

While elephants do not use nests or burrows, they may regularly use clearings on trails for resting out of direct sun.

The development of intelligence in elephants is favoured by their need to differentiate between individuals and recall their behaviour, and to learn about and remember good feeding sites, where water can be found during droughts, which places are dangerous, etc. This type of knowledge may be essential for survival in difficult periods.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports Literature Reports: Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - Social Behaviour - Territoriality - Predation - Learning 

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Sexual Behaviour

EDITORIAL SUMMARY The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

Elephants are polygynous - males will mate with more than one female. Males are found with female herds when one or more females is in oestrus. Males will breed with females whether or not the males are in musth. The male may touch the female's vulva with his trunk tip then raise his trunk to his mouth, possibly conveying the scent to Jacobson's organ. Before mating, the elephants may stand head-to head, touching mouths and intertwining trunks, or circle, touching one another's genital areas. The male may also press his chin on the cow's back or shoulders. The cow may walk away from the bull, with the bull following with his trunk on her back until she stops and he mounts her. In one observed mating, the male mounted the female from behind, with his forelegs stretched forward on either side of the spine, reaching nearly to the female's shoulders, and sank on his hindlegs until nearly sitting, then gradually raised himself again until the hind legs were nearly straight. After mating the male moved off silently while the female showed some excitement, trumpeting softly, flapping her ears and raising her tail.

In musth, the male has a raised testosterone level and shows aggressive behaviour, restlessness and increased distance of movement, secretion from the temporal glands and dribbling of urine. They spend less time feeding and resting, and lose physical condition. Males may start to come into musth from about 20 years of age, and then show musth annually; musth may last only a few days in younger males but months in full grown males (e.g. 35 years old). Musth may occur in the largest males at the same time as the peak of oestrus occurrence in females.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports Literature Reports: Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - Sexual Behaviour 

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Activity Patterns, Self-grooming and Navigation

EDITORIAL SUMMARY The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

ACTIVITY PATTERNS: The basic gait of elephants is the pace or rack: sequence of movement left hind, left fore, right hind, right fore. Walking slowly, three feet are on the ground most of the time. At faster paces, more of the time is spent with only two feet on the ground. Asian elephants can negotiate quite steep terrain. In such circumstances they may occasionally use the elbows of the forelimbs while climbing and drop to the knees on the hind legs while descending. Asian elephants swim readily and can swim for long distances (e.g. 48 km); young calves may scramble onto their mothers' shoulders while swimming. Elephants' trunks have many different functions including breathing, feeding, sucking up water, mud or dust, picking up, holding and throwing items, gathering olfactory and tactile information, visual and tactile communication. The trunk is often in motion, apparently sampling the olfactory environment. Adult elephants may rest while standing, often leaning on a rock or tree, and rarely sleep lying down during the day; infants and juveniles often lie down to sleep.

SELF-GROOMING: Elephants usually bathe daily, sucking water into the trunk then spraying it on the body; the order in which different parts of the body is sprayed varies between individuals. Young elephants in particular, but also adults, may immerse themselves in water, even lie down and roll in shallow water. Mud bathing, which occurs independently of water bathing, may involve wallowing in a mud hole; more often mud is picked up with the trunk and thrown on the body. Soil bathing may or may not occur after water bathing and involves loosening the soil with the forefeet, picking it up with the trunk then throwing it over the body. After any of these types of bathing the elephant often rubs on trees or rocks. The trunk may also be used for rubbing, the tail is used to rub the perineal area and one foot may be rubbed using the foot on the other side.

CIRCADIAN RHYTHM: Asian elephants generally rest in the middle of the day and show a period of sleep (standing up and lying down in the middle of the night, usually during the period 4 am to 7 am. They are active in the morning, evening and night. There are generally two main peaks of activity during the day, one in the morning and another in late afternoon, although there are variations in this pattern.

SPEED OF MOVEMENT: Elephants may walk at about 3.0 - 4.0 km per hour, or much slower (e.g. 10 metres to 1.5 km per hour) while feeding. Females with young move more slowly than do males. Charging elephants are said to reach 40 km/hr (25 mph)

NAVIGATION: [There is no information available regarding how elephants navigate]

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports Literature Reports: Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - Activity Patterns, Grooming and Navigation Behaviour 

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Habitat and Range

General Habitat Type

EDITORIAL SUMMARY The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.
  • Asian elephants used to be found in a wide range of habitats from grassy plains to thick jungle. Both evergreen and dry deciduous forests may be used, also thorn scrub forests, grasslands and swamps. Essentials for suitable habitats are water, sufficient food and shade. 

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports Literature Reports: Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - General Habitat Type 

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Nests / Burrows / Shelters

EDITORIAL SUMMARY The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.
  • While elephants do not use nests or burrows, they may regularly use clearings on trails for resting out of direct sun.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports Literature Reports: Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - Nests - Burrows - Shelters

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Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)

EDITORIAL SUMMARY The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

NATIVE DISTRIBUTION: Asian elephants may be found in the Indian sub-continent (India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh), continental south-east Asia (China, Burma, Thailand, Kampuchea, Vietnam and Malaysia) and on the Andaman Islands, Sri Lanka, Sumatra and Borneo. However, distribution is generally patchy. They may be found from sea level to as high as 3,000 m.

INTRODUCTIONS: --

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports Literature Reports: Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - Distribution & Movement 

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Conservation

Species variation

EDITORIAL SUMMARY The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.
  • Four subspecies may be valid: Elephas maximus maximus from Sri Lanka, Elephas maximus summatranus from Sumatra, Bornean elephants Elephas maximus borneensis (based on recent DNA analysis) and Elephas maximus indicus, including all elephants from mainland Asia.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports Literature Reports: Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - Species Variation 

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Conservation Status

EDITORIAL SUMMARY The following editorial comment summarises detailed information given within the LITERATURE REPORTS. Links to the LITERATURE REPORTS are provided at the bottom of this box.

WILD POPULATION - IMPORTANCE: The Asian elephant is endangered; the total wild population is probably no more than 25,000 - 40,000. Many of the remaining populations are small and isolated and are still declining.

GENERAL LEGISLATION: The Asian elephant is classified as endangered by USDI

CITES LISTING: CITES Appendix I

RED-DATA LIST STATUS: Endangered: EN A1cd (criteria defined in version 2.3, 1994)

THREATS: The major current threats to Asian elephants are habitat fragmentation, logging, dam projects, human conflicts associated with agriculture and other human-elephant conflicts due to the increasing human population and the inadequate size of elephant reserves; they are also threatened by capture for domestication, and associated illegal trade.

PEST STATUS / PEST POPULATIONS: Many elephants are in reserves of inadequate size and become "pests" when they stray out of the reserves and raid crops etc.

CAPTIVE POPULATIONS: There may be about 16,750 Asian elephants in captivity, including several thousand elephants considered as domesticated animals and used in work such as logging in terrain inaccessible to vehicles as well as a zoo population of several hundred animals. At present, reproduction in captive populations is inadequate to maintain the numbers of those populations.

TRADE AND USE: Asian elephants are used in industries such as logging, for ceremonial purposes, and for tourism. Unfortunately, there is still an illegal trade in ivory and poaching for ivory continues.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

CLICK THE LINKS FOR Literature Reports Literature Reports: Asian Elephant Elephas maximus - Conservation Status 

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