Asian Elephant Facts
GENUS : Elephas Maximus (largest elephant)
COMMON NAME : Asian or Indian Elephant
CLASS : Mammalia
ORDER : Proboscidae
FAMILY : Elephantidae
Height: 2.5 TO 3.0 M (At The Shoulder)
Length: 5.5 TO 6.4 M
Weight: Males – 5,000 kg
Females – 3,000 kg
The Asian elephant is second only to its African cousin (Africana Loxodonta) as the largest of all land animals.
They have a deeply lobed forehead with a prominent twin domed crown.
The elephant has a highly developed brain, which is the largest of all land mammals. Their brain is 3 or 4 times larger than that of humans, although smaller as a proportion of bodyweight.
Elephants’ eyes are small; because of the position and size of the head and neck, they have limited peripheral vision. They have poor eyesight with a range of only 25 ft. This is slightly improved in forest shade.
They have smaller ears than the African elephant with large veins flows beneath the thin covering of skin. This is said to cool the blood and be important for temperature control (elephants cannot sweat!) From the age of 10, the top of the ear gradually folds over, increasing at about an inch for every 20 years of an elephant’s life. This provides a rough indication of an elephant’s age. Elephants have an excellent sense of hearing and are said to be able to pick up some sounds over distances of 10 miles!
Elephants have two types of teeth, molars and incisors. The molars are rasping surfaces with a series of parallel ridges (African elephants differ in this respect). Elephants have six sets of teeth over their lifetime, with old teeth being replaced as they wear out through use. Once all an elephants teeth are used up it is unable to feed properly a situation that leads ventually to the old animals death.
Tongues and Taste
Elephants have lovely big tongues, which they enjoy being stroked!They have a good sense of taste and are highly discriminating in what they eat.
The elephant’s trunk is one of nature most amazing creations. It is made up of six major muscle groups, composed of over 100,000 individual muscle units. At its tip, the Asian elephant’s trunk has a single finger, whereas African elephants have two. The trunk is dexterous and sensitive while at the same time being strong and powerful. An elephant uses its trunk for a multitude of purposes: it can lightly pluck a flower or pick up a coin or lift huge logs or elephant calves; it can be used for reaching high branches or rummaging low down on the forest floor; it conveys food and water to the mouth and can suck up huge volumes of liquid, expelling it at great force; it is also used to make sounds such as trumpeting. In self-defense, the trunk is a highly formidable weapon that is capable of killing. Last but not least, the trunk houses a keen sense of smell, which is said to be more developed than any other land animal. A damaged trunk is a death sentence to an elephant. The trunk is highly sensitive and they are very careful to protect them, sleeping with trunks tucked up under their chins and will adopt the same position when threatened.
Elephant tusks are developed upper incisors. They are used for digging, locating water, balancing large objects and in defense as a potentially lethal weapon. Asian elephants commonly have short and light tusks, but they can on occasion be long and slender. As opposed to their African cousins, only male Asian elephants have tusks; females may have short protrusions called tushes. These are rarely longer than 4 inches. Not all males are tuskers. Tuskless males are at no disadvantage; the energy they save from not growing tusks goes into additional body weight and they usually have stronger, more developed trunks. Elephant tusks are both a blessing and curse. While they give elephants a majesty over all animals, they also lead to ivory poaching and elephant deaths.
Despite being termed pachyderms, the elephant is not thick-skinned but very sensitive. The skin is heavily grooved, with a loose fitting appearance covered with coarse bristles. It is prone to irritation from insect bites and mites living within the skin folds. For this reason, regular bathing is vital to the good health of the animals. Elephants will frequently use their trunks to blow a covering of mud over their bodies to protect themselves from insect menace.
An elephant’s tail can be as long as 1.3m and is tipped by a series of very coarse, wire-like hairs. They have an extraordinary degree of control over tail movement and use them as a fly swat against insects.
The elephant’s feet are an amazing product of genetic engineering making them unsurpassed as a means of traversing saturated ground or marshland. The sole pads expand when weight is brought down and contract when the pressure is released. This allows even distribution of the elephant’s massive bulk. Thai elephants usually, but not always, have four toenails on their front feet and five on the rear. An amazing, but nevertheless accurate, fact is that an elephant’s height at the shoulder is twice the circumference of his foot.
Asian elephants are found in a wide range of habitats including jungle forests and grasslands. The reduction of viable elephant habitat is the greatest threat to the survival of Asian elephants.
Elephants are herbivores and enjoy a range of vegetation including grass, bamboo, a variety of tree and plant leaves, legumes, bark, roots and fruit. A mature adult has a prodigious appetite and requires between 200-300kg of food every day. An elephant’s digestive system is not particularly efficient, digesting less than 50% of its food.
A healthy adult can drink up to 60 gallons of water a day!
Lifespan and Cycles
The elephant, more than any other animal, closely follows the life cycle of human beings. A pregnant elephant’s gestation period is between 18 and 22 months. Towards the end of pregnancy, the mother will choose another female from the herd as an ‘auntie’ to help with the birth and the rearing of her offspring. Twins occur very rarely.
The young are suckled up to the age of four, although they will start developing an interest in solids from as young as six months. As the infant grows, the whole family group is involved in its protection, education and discipline. In the early teens, elephants become sexually mature and from the age of 16, a female can reproduce. A cow rarely has more than four children through her lifetime. Between the ages of 25 and 40, elephants are in their prime of life and the peak of their physical prowess. After 40, they begin to slow down but have the advantage of experience. At about 55, old age starts to set in and if they are lucky, they will reach 70 and possibly even older.
Musth is a condition unique to elephants, which has still not been scientifically explained. It affects sexually mature male elephants usually between the ages of 20 and 50. It occurs annually and lasts for a period of between 2 to 3 weeks, usually during the hot season. During this time, the elephant becomes highly agitated, aggressive and dangerous. Even normally placid animals have been known to kill people and other elephants when in the full throes of musth. The reasons for its occurrence are not fully understood. The animal is sexually agitated, but musth is not thought to be entirely sexual in nature. Elephants mate outside the musth period and it is not the same as the rutting season common in some other mammals. When in musth, a strong smelling oily secretion flows from a gland above the eye. This discharge can be quite free flowing and run down the elephant’s face and dribble into his mouth. The taste of the secretion can drive the animal wild. Domesticated elephants experiencing musth are usually kept securely chained and fed from a distance until the torment subsides, after which he will return to his usual character. From 45-50 musth gradually diminishes, eventually disappearing altogether. On very exceptional occasions, a form of musth has been recorded in females.
Elephants are highly socialised animals which live in family groups. Wild herds consist of females and their young and are led by a matriarch, who is the undisputed leader; where she goes the herd will always follow. The matriarch and other senior females carry within their memories the wealth of knowledge gained from their life experiences. This is vital to the extended family’s well being. At the onset of maturity, young males will be ousted from the herd and form small male groups of up to 10 animals. These will roughly track the movements of the main female group. As they reach their mid twenties, mature males usually stay in pairs or a group of three. There is a hierarchy among the adult male, with the dominant bull having prime mating rights. This position is usually attained by a trial of combat against any challenging bulls. Different herds, including male groups, can come together at favoured water holes or grazing sites. There is never friction between the groups and observers have reported that often they appear to be joyous reunions.