Classification and Range
The Asian, or Indian, elephant belongs to the family Elephantidae, which also includes its larger relative, the African elephant.
Asian elephants are found throughout India, Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar (formerly Burma), China, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Dense tropical forests and grassy plains up to 10,000 feet (3,048 m).
Head/Body Length and Shoulder Height
Adult length: 18-21 feet (5.5-6.4 m)
Adult shoulder height: 8-10.5 feet (2.5-3 m)
Adult weight: 6,600-11,500 pounds (3,000-5,227 kg)
Average life expectancy for an elephant in captivity and the wild is about 45 years.
In the wild: Elephants are herbivores, feeding on bamboo, grasses and leaves, roots, bark and fruit. Soil is eaten for its mineral content. The Asian elephant requires less food than the African elephant because of the diversity and quality of food found in its more lush native habitat.
Female Asian elephants (cows) mature sexually at around 9-12 years of age and produce calves at intervals of about every three to five years. Although males (bulls) reach sexual maturity around 10-15 years of age, they often do not breed until they are about 30 years old when they become large and strong enough to successfullycompete with other large male elephantsfor females. An elephant's reproductive cycle corresponds to seasonal food and water supplies. The gestation period lasts about 22 months (630-660 days). Mothers give birth to one calf (twins are rare) that weighs approximately 200 pounds (90 kg).
Calves suckle with their mouth (not trunk) and may not be fully weaned until the birth of the next calf. Full-grown elephants consume about six to eight percent of their own body weight in vegetation each day. To accomplish this, they spend as many as 18 hours per day feeding. These massive animals can drink 26 gallons (100 liters) of water at one time and, when thirsty, more than 55 gallons (208 liters) within minutes. Due to their large size, adult elephants have no natural predators. Young elephants, however, are occasionally preyed on by tigers.
Looks can be Deceiving
Although Asian and African elephants look much alike, there are several physical characteristics that distinguish them from one another. Asian elephants are smaller in size, usually have smaller tusks (a female's tusks are not visible beyond the lips), have two domed-shaped bulges on their forehead, have a rounded back, smaller ears and less wrinkled skin, and have a single finger-like projection at the top of the trunk tip.
Unlike most herbivores, elephants cannot reach the ground with their mouths because their necks are too short. To compensate for their short neck, elephants have developed highly versatile trunks (fusion of upper lip and nose) which enable them to feed from the ground and reach high in trees. A trunk weighs about 400 pounds (182 kg), contains at least 40,000 muscles (and possibly up to 100,000), can hold up to 2.5 gallons (9.5 l) of water and is so dexterous that it can pick up a grain of rice. Other uses of this versatile organ are smelling, snorkeling, lifting, greeting, caressing, fighting and vocalizing.
Location at the Zoo
Woodland Park Zoo's two female Asian elephants and one female African elephant can be seen at the Elephant Forest exhibit located in the Tropical Asia bioclimatic zone. The elephants have use of a large area that includes a paddock, bathing pool and barn. On cold or wet days, visitors can expect to find the elephants in their heated barn.
The Asian elephant is an endangered species. There are fewer than 35,000 (10,000 in captivity) left in the wild and their numbers are decreasing due to habitat loss resulting from human activities such as urban development, agriculture and poaching for their ivory tusks.
Woodland Park Zoo has joined other zoos to help preserve and protect these magnificent animals by participating in the Association of Zoos & Aquariums' (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) for Asian and African elephants. To enhance the captive breeding of Asian elephants, zoos are working toward constructing more facilities capable of handling adult bull elephants. Learn more about elephant conservation.
How You Can Help!
The effort to save endangered species requires cooperation and support at the international, national, regional and individual levels. You can help in this cause. Join and become active in Woodland Park Zoo and other conservation organizations of your choice. Please do not buy products made from wild animal parts.
Contact Woodland Park Zoo at firstname.lastname@example.org find out other ways you can support conservation programs at the zoo. Discover more about endangered elephants by contacting the World Wildlife Fund at their Web site at www.worldwildlife.org. Learn other ways you can help conserve wildlife and the habitats they require for survival by visiting our How You Can Help page.
Sources and Suggested Reading
Eltringham, S. K. Dr. 1991. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Elephants. Crescent Books, New York, NY. 188 p.
Macdonald, David, ed. 1993. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Facts on File, Inc., New York, NY. 895 p.
Animal Close-Ups. 1992. The Elephant: Peaceful Giant. Charlesbridge Publishing, Watertown, MA. 27 p.
Zoobooks, 1994. Elephants. Wildlife Education, Ltd., San Diego, CA. 22 p.