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Asian elephant

Latin name: Elephas maximus

IUCN Red List conservation status

About: Asian elephant

A healthy elephant population is very good for the whole ecosystem. For example, they create waterholes that help other animals in the dry season and they help the forest regenerate by spreading fruits and seeds. As a flagship species, they help to protect everything else in the forest too.

Sereivathana Tuy

Manager of the Cambodian Elephant Conservation Group

An image relating to Asian elephant

The Asian elephant historically roamed from Iran to Indonesia and China but now only remains in highly fragmented populations across 13 countries.

Global population estimates are of between 40,000 – 50,000, but a lack of reliable up-to-data suggests that this figure could actually be much lower, with possibly only 30,000 animals remaining in the wild.

Asian Elephant facts:

  • Threatened by habitat loss, hunting and conflict with human populations
  • Asian elephant are smaller and have smaller ears than African elephants
  • Female Asian elephants lack tusks, but do possess extended incisor teeth or “tushes”, which are only visible when the female opens her mouth
  • Asian elephants live in matriarchal societies, whereby herds consisting of related females and the immature are led by the oldest female
  • Mature bull elephants older than 15 years are usually solitary but fight over females during the breeding season. They enter ‘musth’ annually once mature; a period of extreme aggression when their testosterone level is up to 60 times greater than normal

Of the 13 countries where the Asian elephant survives, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) is working in Cambodia, China, Laos PDR, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Over the past decade we have been researching elephant distribution and population status, and have successfully mitigated human-wildlife conflict so that elephant killings in retribution for crop damage are now a thing of the past.

Using the Asian elephant as a flagship species, we understand that protecting their habitat can also save a range of other species. Through our elephant work, we are also proactive in engaging on issues such as hydropower development and associated logging as well as informing national forest policy to ensure the maintenance of elephant corridors.

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Did you know?

The easiest way to distinguish between the African and Asian elephant is that the Asian elephant has smaller ears. There are plenty of other subtle differences such as a more arched back in the Asian elephant as well as very thin eyes and a yellow hide in the summer. An interesting fact is that most female Asian elephants lack tusks, unlike those in Africa; if female Asian elephants do possess tusks, they are termed tushes and can only be seen when the female opens her mouth.

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