Today’s endangered post is focusing on the Asian elephant. It is grouped as top 10 most endangered animals in the world. Their population ranges between 40,000 and 50,000 which may seem like a lot but in actuality is not enough. Before the 20th century, over 100,000 Asian elephants existed. Their numbers have been vastly cut down for reasons I will discuss in a bit.
The main two elephant types that people are aware of are the African elephant and the Asian elephant. There are actually 4 more sub species in the elephant family: Borneo Pygmy elephant, Sri Lankan elephant, Sumatran elephant, and Indian elephant. And before you ask, yes, all 4 of these subspecies are listed as endangered as well with the Sumatran elephant being critically endangered.
The Asian elephant finds habitat in the forests of India to Thailand and southern Asia. Their scientific name is Elephas maximus (saying that out loud is so cool! Do it, you know you want to). And adult Asian elephant weighs about 11,000 lbs (about 5000 kgs) and can grow up to 22 feet in length and 6-11 feet high. The Asian elephant is smaller than their African cousins. They have smaller ears and smaller tusks. They are very intelligent creatures. It is believed that they are able to recognize themselves in a mirror. They are also very sociable. Groups of six to eight females herd together led by a matriarch. The Asian elephant also plays a prominent role in Hindu mythology. Lord Ganesha, also known as The Remover of Obstacles, was presented as an elephant head and is honored as a powerful deity in all sacred rituals.
The four main causes for the Asian elephant decline are:
- Habitat loss
- Illegal wildlife trade
- Capture of wild elephants
The forests these elephants inhabit are consistently being destroyed by humans due to infrastructure development. Elephants in general, have very long migratory routes. When railways and towns are built along their routes, they’re forced to come in closer contact with humans to travel as well as for food. Poaching of elephant tusks for ivory, meat and skin are the main contenders in the illegal wildlife trade. Because many of the male Asian elephants are being killed the most, it makes it hard to keep the gene pool from interbreeding. And last but not least, humans like to capture wild elephants for domestic use such as circuses and tourist attractions.
Since essentially all elephant species are some form of endangered, great efforts are being made to protect the wild herds. Organizations have set up patrols in certain areas to find and disable elephant snares and traps as well as apprehending poachers and putting them in jail. Communities are also coming together to make everyone more aware of the elephants plight as well as helping to rebuild the forests. More and more forests and other natural areas are being protected under law. Circuses such as the Ringling Bros. will no longer feature elephants in their shows and countries like China are completely ending the domestic ivory trade by banning imports and exports.
If you are interested in donating to help the cause of elephant survival, check out WWF’s adopt an elephant program here.