Physical Appearance: Asian elephants differ in several ways from the African Elephant . They have smaller ears which are straight at the bottom, unlike the large fan-shape ears of the African species. Asian elephants are much smaller, weighing between 6,615 and 11,020 pounds at a height of about 7 to 12 feet compared to the 8,820 to 15,430 at 10 to 13 feet of the African elephant.
Adaptations: The Sri Lankan species (E. m. maximus) is the largest, darkest, and has patches of depigmentation (an area without color) on their ears, face, trunk and belly. The Sumatran (E. m. sumatranus) elephant is the smallest and lightest. The third sub-species, E. m. indicus has a mix of characteristics from the two other sub-species.
Geographic Range: Asian elephants live in fragmented forests in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, China (extinct in wild), Malaysia, Indonesia, and Borneo.
Biomes: Tropical savanna, tropical rainforest, tropical deciduous forest, mountains (Himalayas).
Habitat: Asian elephants live in many different habitats including open grasslands, marshes, savannas and forests.
IUCN Status: Endangered The IUCN's Species Survival Commission's Asian Elephant Specialist Group estimates that there are approximately 38,000 to 51,000 wild Asian elephants. In comparison, there are more than 600,000 African elephants.
Threats To Survival: The loss of habitat is the primary threat to Asian elephants. Approximately 20% of the world's population lives in or near the range of Asian elephants. The homes of these elephants are being cleared for many reasons including warfare, agricultural development, human settlement, and logging. Asian elephants are less prone to poaching (killing elephants for ivory tusks) because few males (and no females) grow tusks. In China, the penalty for poaching is the death sentence. Conflicts between Asian elephants and humans often occur because of habitat destruction. Sometimes there is not enough food in small forests to sustain elephants, so they look for the nearest source which is usually the field of a local farmer. Dr. Sukumar (profiled in The Wild Times Winter 1996 issue) is studying this human-elephant conflict and looking for ways to ease the tension.