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Asian elephant

Ééphant tirant du bois

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Asian elephant

Fact about the Asian elephant

Family: Elephantidae
Height at shoulder: 2 to 3.5 m
Weight: 3,000 to 5,000 kg
Sexual maturity: 9 to 12 years
Lifespan: 50 years

  • Long trunk with only one “finger”
  • Short straight tusks
  • Thick greyish skin
  • Poor vision but excellent sense of smell
  • Large toenails

The Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) and its cousin the African elephant (Loxodonta africana), are the planet’s largest land mammals. This species, scattered over a vast region of southern Asia, makes its home in the forests and grasslands of India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.

Territory

The Asian elephant is a herbivore that follows the same migration route year after year. In arid regions, it can travel enormous distances to find food. In zones where vegetation is abundant, the animals opt for a more sedentary life.

Close to water

Spending its life in tropical rainforests and grasslands, the Asian elephant is drawn to places where it can quench its thirst and bathe. Without water, these animals soon waste away. Mud baths are also essential, to rid their skin of parasites and to cool down.

Multi-use trunk

The elephant uses its trunk in multiple ways, for example to trumpet, to feed itself, or to rip up trees. In addition to being a tuba, a shower head and a fly swatter, this tactile and olfactory organ also functions as a formidable weapon. The African elephant’s trunk ends in two flexible and prehensile “fingers”, while the Asian elephant’s trunk has only one.

The herd

The oldest female is usually the herd leader. Herds contain from 15 to 30 members, consisting of adult females and juveniles of both sexes. On reaching sexual maturity, young males are shunned by the group and must leave to live on their own. As with other males of breeding age, they join a herd only during mating season.

Ecological benefits

The Asian elephant plays a vital role in maintaining ecological balance in its habitat, by limiting the growth of vegetation and spreading the seeds of plants it feeds on. Elephants have a positive influence on the growth of numerous plant and animal species that share its habitat.

Heavyweight baby

Following a gestation period of 22 months, the female (or cow) gives birth to a single calf. Being the only one, the newborn already weighs about 100 kg at birth. The elephant calf learns to walk within days, and a young female from the herd often helps the mother care for her offspring.

Rapid growth

The elephant calf only learns to use its trunk around the age of six months. With her rich milk, the mother nurses her offspring till the age of five years. While the calf grows quickly, juvenile males grow markedly faster than females. 

Servant to man

Humans began domesticating elephants about 5,000 years ago. Over the centuries, this enormous creature has been used as a transportation vehicle, a logging machine, an instrument of war and a circus performer. Despite its venerated status, the Asian elephant has never been safe from mistreatment by humans.

Threats

Hunted for its ivory and a victim of intensive deforestation, the Asian elephant today is a species threatened with extinction. In Laos, once nicknamed “Land of a Million Elephants”, only 700 to 800 remain in the wild. For all Asia, it is believed the elephant population barely exceeds 30,000.

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