Asian elephants are largest terrestrial mammals of the continent while being smaller than African elephants. Another difference between those two related species is the “finger”: Asian elephants have one “finger” on their upper lips while their African relatives possess two “fingers”, the second one on their lower lips. Skin color of Asian elephant varies from brown to gray. The elephant also has observable pink-colored spots on its ears, forehead, trunk and chest. Females of Asian elephant are identified by comparably smaller tusks.
Asian elephant lives over the vast territory, covering Hindustan and Indochina peninsulas, Borneo Island and, generally, most of south-eastern Asia. Their habitat includes plains, tropical forests, evergreen and semi-evergreen forests, wet and dry deciduous forests, prickly forests as well as cultivating lands.
These elephants are very communicative mammals. As a general rule, they live in herds, consisting of more than 20 females. The oldest female leads the group in its movement routes, searching for food and water source. Sometimes herds can break up into smaller subgroups. Male elephants, on the contrary, lead solitary life. From time to time, though, they send and receive messages from the herds over huge distances by means of high frequencies sounds, imperceptible to the human ear. Asian elephants are not at all territorial. These animals are diurnal and crepuscular. They eat and walk at dusk and down while being absolutely passive the daytime heat. Reliable source of drinking water is a mandatory life condition for elephant, since they drink no less than once a day.
They are polygynous, meaning that a male can mate with multiple females. Before mating, males conduct fights to reveal the dominant male (the one that will mate the group of females). Asian elephants mate all year-round, without reference to a season of year. Under favorable conditions, a female can give birth once every 3-4 years. Gestation period lasts quite long, 18-22 months, after which a single baby is born. The baby feeds on breast milk of its mother as well as other lactating females if necessary. A few months later young add grass to its daily diet meanwhile continuing to eat breast milk for up to 1.5 year. Even after weaning, the mother keeps on caring for and protecting the young. Sexual maturity is reached at the age of around 14 years. However, it’s not so easy for males: they are allowed to mate only when they are able to dominate other males in the area.
Asian elephant is also included in Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). Threats have to do mainly with human activity. Since ancient times, these animals have been hunted and killed in large numbers, as a source of food, and then for ivory. Hunting for ivory continues to this day, being a notable threat to overall population of Asian elephant. Deforestation and agricultural activities are among threats, leading to constriction of the elephants’ habitat.
IUCN says official estimated population number of Asian elephant is currently 41.410-52.345 individuals. If listed by countries, on the first place is India with 26.390-30.770 individuals around the country. Then comes Myanmar (4000-5000) and Sri-Lanka (2500-4000). Other countries with comparably large population of Asian elephants are: Indonesia (2400-3400), Thailand (2500-3200), Malaysia (2100-3100), Laos (500-1000), Cambodia (250-600), Bhutan (250-500), China (200-250), Bangladesh (150-250), Vietnam (70-150) and Nepal (100-125). About 13.000 individuals of Asian elephant are domesticated, working mainly in entertainment area. The ICUN classifies the Asian elephant as Endangered with a decreasing population trend.
Asian elephant has huge impact on the ecosystem of its habitat. They turn some areas of forests into meadows and disperse seeds. Moreover, cases have been known, when elephants excavated holes in dry riverbeds to get water for other species. As the elephants walk through forests, they open broad pathways, which stop the spread of forest fire.
The oldest extant evidence of Asian elephants’ domestication comes from the Bronze Age, from the era of Harappan civilization. Evidently, the elephants were at the time used as fighting machine, being invaluable components of siege conduction. They served as beasts of burden and as elevation at battlefields and at hunting. These animals have been captured from the wild and tamed for human usage. Due to their huge size and ability of obeying orders, they proved to be indispensable in transportation of heavy objects such as timber materials. Along with the above mentioned, Asian elephants have been object of decoration at official ceremonies for swell society. Nowadays Asian elephants are used mainly in touristic industry, transferring and entertaining tourists.