Elephas maximus indicus
The Indian elephant is a nomadic animal, endemic to mainland Asia. It's one of the 3 subspecies of the Asian elephant. The animal is considerably smaller that African elephants. Indian elephants travel constantly, staying in one place for less than a few days. The highest point of their body is on their head. Females of the Indian elephant lack tusks. In addition, females are distinguished by a finger-like process on the tip of their trunk.
The range of these animals covers a huge territory in mainland Asia. The species occurs in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka in South Asia and Cambodia, China, Indonesia (Kalimantan and Sumatra), Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam in South-east Asia. Indian elephants are extinct from Pakistan. They occur in a variety of habitats such as grassland, dry deciduous forest, moist deciduous forest as well as evergreen and semi-evergreen forest.
Habits and lifestyle
Indian elephants are both diurnal and nocturnal. They are highly social animals, gathering into matriarchal units: these are stable groups, which may consist of more than 20 related females. The leader of a group is the oldest female. She guides the herd in their search of food and water sources. These matriarchal units can occasionally divide into smaller, temporary groups. These small herds communicate with each other by low frequency vocalizations, heard from afar. Some males are known to join these groups. These elephants are non-territorial animals. The Indian elephants used to migrate seasonally. However, they presently cannot do it due to agricultural development and other human activities. Along with many other large mammals, these animals handle cold better than heat. During the hottest part of the day, elephants usually shelter, releasing heat through their ear by flapping them at different speed, depending on the extent of heat.
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Diet and nutrition
As megaherbivorous animals, Indian elephants primarily feed upon grasses, supplementing their diet with bark, roots, leaves, stems of trees, vines, shrubs as well as bananas, rice, sugarcane and other cultivated crops.
The Indian elephants have a polygynous mating system. These animals breed year-round. Before mating, males usually engage in aggressive fights, which occasionally result in serious injuries or even death. The winner joins an all-female group, driving away other males. A breeding pair remains together for about 3 weeks. Gestation period lasts for 22 months, yielding a single baby. During the birth, females of the herd surround the mother in order to protect her. The newborn baby starts feeding upon maternal milk and is able to stand within 2 hours after birth. Weaning occurs within 2 - 4 years, and female elephants are ready to mate at 10 years old.
Currently, Indian elephants greatly suffer from habitat loss and fragmentation due to illegal encroachment into protected areas as well as forest clearing for road development. Furthermore, loss of habitat reduces the amount of suitable food and leaves the elephants without shelter, leading to fragmentation of their range. Hence, isolated populations are formed on scattered remains of their former range. As a result, these animals can neither migrate nor mix with other herds of conspecifics. Thus, Indian elephants look for new sources of food, taking destructive raids to farms, settlements and plantations, located within their original range. These confrontations with humans cause high number of mortality, sharply decreasing the population of these animals in the wild. On the other hand, males of this species attract poachers for their ivory tusks, which are presently in high demand among Asian middle class, regardless the global ban on ivory trade.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population of Indian elephant is approximately 26,390–30,770 individuals. Overall, the Asian elephant species is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List.
Indian elephants play an important role in their ecosystem helping with seed dispersal and creating a habitat for smaller animals by tearing down trees.
Fun facts for kids
- Due to a highly-developed sense of smell, these animals are able to smell water at a distance of up to 3 miles away. The trunk of elephant can hold as much as 2 gallons of water.
- Elephants have over 50,000 muscles in their trunk.
- These animals spend a lot of their active time (up to 19 hours per day) feeding.
- Indian elephants usually have very little sleep when travelling in search of food.
- These animals play a key role in the culture and religious traditions of the region they are endemic to.
- It's commonly known that all elephants love water, fighting the waves, diving and swimming. In addition, their joints can have a break due to the buoyancy in the water.
- The massive trunk of elephant can weigh up to 400 pounds. However, it's extremely dexterous, able to grasp small objects such as a grain of rice.
- Moreover, elephants have a highly sensitive skin, allowing them to feel a fly falling upon it.
- Elephants are believed to have a good memory probably due to the ability of forming cognitive maps, helping them remember large-scale spaces for long periods of time.
- Elephants use touching to communicate with conspecifics. They are known to stroke and wrap their trunks. Meanwhile, older elephants discipline younger ones by trunk-slapping, kicking and shoving.