Featured Animal: Asian Elephant

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“People are not going to care about animal conservation unless they think that animals are worthwhile”-David Attenborough

This quote could not be more true. Humans often put animals beneath themselves. They view them as something to own and control rather than seeing them as equals. They don’t understand the necessity of the animals and could care less if they were gone from the earth.


The truth is we are all part of this earth, and we all play an important role in maintaing the balance of our planet’s ecosystem.


Education about wildlife is so important when fighting for conservation which is why I am starting the Featured Animal segment. Every few weeks I will spotlight a different animal that I am either currently working with or have worked with in the past.


This segment will inform you about general facts of the featured animal, ways they are threatened, and how you can help them.


For the first installment, since I’ve been talking about Elephant Nature Park and Thailand so much, I think the Asian Elephant is only fitting to be featured.

asian elephants

Physical Characteristics

  • Size: The Asian elephant is the smaller of the 2 elephant species (Asian and African)
  • Weight: Asian elephants weigh between 5,000-10,000 lbs
  • Height: Bull elephants can stand up to 10 ft tall and cows up to 8 ft
  • Color: Elephant skin is grey and begins to develop pink areas as they age
  • Tusks: Only the male Asian elephants develop tusks. An elephant’s tusks are in fact teeth. They can grow up to 2 meters long and are used to dig for food and water, strip bark from trees, and fight.
  • Trunks: An elephant trunk is around 2 meters long. It has no bones and contains 40,000 muscles that are divided into as many as 150,000 units. An elephant will use it’s trunk to eat and drink, breath, communicate, pick up objects, and keep itself cool by spraying water on itself.
  • Ears: Asian Elephant ears are smaller than their African cousins. An elephant uses it’s ears to release heat by flapping them back and forth. Asian elephants live in cooler tropical climates, so they do not need to release as much heat as African elephants.


Location and Habitat


Asian elephants live in large blocks of forest and grasslands throughout multiple countries in southeast Asia including: China, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Cambodia, and Vietnam.


Before the human population exploded, elephants would roam large areas of land in search of water and feeding grounds. While roaming, they would help the natural vegetation by spreading seed in their dung and clearing out thick brush to make way for new life.


The natural environment will suffer greatly without the help of these giant beasts. Like I said before….we all play an important role in maintaining the balance of our planet’s ecosystem.


Social Characteristics


Elephants are highly social creatures. They depend on their herd for protection and guidance.


Every herd will have a matriarch that will lead them to the best water and feeding grounds. The matriarchs have to be well seasoned and strong. The survival of the herd depends on their knowledge of migration patterns.


Then you have the aunties. Once a new calf is born, other females will step in to help the new mother protect her young. If the mother of the calf should pass, the herd would continue raising it.


Male elephants are a bit different from the females when it comes to being social. Male calves will stay with the herd until around the age of 13. Then they are cast out by the herd to live the life of a loner. Some might link up with other males when it’s not mating season, but normally they are on their own. Once they go into musth and are ready to mate again, the males will find a herd and fight other males for breeding rights.


Breeding and Life Cycle


Males will rejoin the herd when mating. They will battle all the other males to gain the steed right to the whole herd.


Female elephants are only able to become pregnant about 3 times a year. Once pregnant the cow will carry the baby for 22 months before giving birth.


The calf will suckle it’s mother for anywhere between 2 and 4 years. It will then be weaned, and the mother will begin to mate again.


An elephant’s lifespan is similar to a humans. Elephants in the wild can live around 70 years.



Threats to  Asian Elephants


In the early 1900s there were hundreds of thousands of elephants roaming throughout southeast Asia. Today there are an estimated 30,000 elephants left, and about 30% of that number are domesticated.


The number one threat to the Asian elephant is loss of habitat. Human population is on the rise and taking over large portions of the elephants natural habitat. Migratory patterns have been broken apart by plantations, dams,  settlements, etc. Elephant/human conflicts are on the rise, and the elephants are losing.


Poaching is another on going conflict. Since the males are the ones to carry tusks in Asian elephants, poaching is exclusively focused on them. This poses a big problem with stability of herds. The large tuskers are being wiped out causing an unbalanced sex ratio. Without the large, more traveled tuskers to breed, the younger, less traveled and less experienced males will come in causing inbreeding and low production success.


Capturing and selling the wild elephants is another problem they face. Wild herds are becoming smaller and smaller in numbers. Humans continue to capture the calves out of a herd and sell them to zoos, tourist attractions, and logging industries. The mothers are normally killed trying to protect their young. The calves go through intense trauma and abuse and their mortality rate is very high.


Domesticated elephants are under threat just the like their wild brothers and sisters. The number of jobs for elephants is on the decline, and their mahouts are struggling just to keep themselves alive. They often have to sell their elephants or use them to beg on the street. The elephants are highly stressed and abused. Some mahouts have even sold their elephants to be slaughtered for their meat!


What to Avoid


  • Elephant Riding: It might look harmless on the surface, but elephant riding can cause multiple health problems in elephants. The extra weight being put on their backs daily can damage their spines resulting in a sloped posture. The chains holding the harness on their backs are places around their abdomens. They press against the reproductive organs of female elephants causing infertility. The training the elephants go through to become safe to ride is incredibly brutal. Check out my last post if you would like to see a video.
  • Elephant Painting: A video has come out recently of an elephant painting a picture of an elephant. People are amazed by this. What this video doesn’t show you is how that elephant was trained to paint such a picture. It’s just as brutal as the training for riding elephants.
  • The Circus and Animal Shows: Like painting and riding, performing elephants go through abusive training. They are kept in small enclosures when not performing and are treated poorly. If a female were to give birth, her baby would more than likely be taken from her. While I was in Thailand I was told stories of the females having their young taken from them and sold off. It’s a terrible thought.
  • Elephant Begging: You see this all over in Thailand. Men walking around with young elephants and approaching tourists. The elephant will hold out its trunk and beg for money. Most think this is soooo cute, but the reality is that money isn’t going to the well being of the elephant. As soon as that mahout is done begging, he’ll go back to his little hut and chain the elephant outside with or without food and water.
  • Buying Anything with Ivory: Poaching has become a huge problem. It has been released recently that humans are killing elephants at a faster rate than they can reproduce (one every 15 minutes). If we don’t stop our greed and hunger for pointless trinkets, we will wipe out one of the greatest animals to walk this earth. When the market for ivory stops, the killing stops. I truly believe this. 


What can You Do to Help?


  • Volunteer: Major efforts are being made right at this very moment to save the Asian elephant. Elephant sanctuaries are popping up all over the place. There are plenty of opportunities to work with domesticated elephants that have been rescued from a cruel life of logging or tourism. You can also work at different reserves that are helping to restore the natural habitat and fighting to keep their wild herds safe.
  • Join Groups: Over the years, I have begun to follow multiple groups focused on saving the elephants. They keep me up to date on what is happening in other parts of the world as well as what is going on in my own country. Any time their is a rally or protest, I know about it, and I try to give my support. If I can physically be be there, I will. If I cannot physically be there, I will at least spread the word to the public via Facebook and Twitter. The more we know, the better fight we have to save these animals.
  • Sign Petitions: This one can be hard because people are leery to give out their information anymore. And rightfully so. Once you give out your email, it seems like you are bombarded with spam mail. I try to sign every petition fighting for animal rights that comes my way. You can always opt out of receiving other emails, and I haven’t felt like my info has been sold to other companies. These petitions aid in the fight to ban trophy hunting and the selling of ivory. They demand better living conditions for captive animals and heighten protection for wild herds.  By signing a petition, you’re letting your voice be heard and standing up for what is right.
  • Donate: Giving a donation is a great way to help no matter what the amount is. That donation can provide food and shelter not only for the animals but for the people fighting to protect them. It can help maintain sanctuaries and fund reintroduction programs. If everyone gave a little bit, it would add up to a lot.
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