All elephants have a number of distinctive physical characteristics, the first being their versatile trunk, adapted to picking up food, greeting other elephants, drawing water, breathing and producing sound. The ears of the Asian elephant are smaller and more rounded than the African elephant, and, whereas both male and female African elephants can have tusks, only some male Asian elephants have large tusks. Females and some males instead have ‘tushes', short tusks that rarely protrude beyond the lower lip.
Many forests in Asia depend on elephants for seed dispersal and creating open spaces through which seedlings can grow. These are forests which sequester carbon and release water and oxygen, thereby playing a key role in global climate control.
Elephants live in herds that are presided over by a dominant female. The matriarch, using information passed on by her mother, guides and protects the family, which consists of her sisters, daughters, female cousins and calves. The matriarch’s knowledge of the home range and traditional water sources is vital to the herd’s survival.
Elephants have a 60-70 year life span and reach maturity at 10-15 years old. Pregnancy lasts 22 months and at birth the mother is often helped by other experienced females in the group. The newborn calf relies on its mother’s milk for up to four years and is watched over by the entire herd.
*International Union for Conservation of Nature is the world’s main authority on the conservation status of species.
Herbivorous – grass, leaves, twigs, buds, fruit, roots and bark
Woodland habitats, from tropical to deciduous forests
India and 12 other countries in Southeast Asia
Populations have declined by at least 50% in the last three generations and Asian elephants face a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future.
The greatest threat to Asian elephants is dramatic habitat loss due to encroachment from expanding infrastructure – agriculture, settlements, roads and railways – and the resultant conflict with humans. Conflict between humans and elephants occurs when elephants eat or trample cultivated crops, destroy buildings and injure or kill people.
Poaching is not as widespread as it is in Africa, but Asian elephants are still killed for ivory, meat and leather.
In addition, they’re taken for the live trade where large numbers of Asian elephants suffer in captivity in zoos, private collections and temples, and when forced to work to entertain tourists or in the timber industry.
We campaign to end the capture and trading of wild elephants for zoos, circuses and private ownership.
We are convinced that captivity cannot provide for the needs of elephants and are calling for the keeping of elephants in UK zoos to be phased out over time.