The Indian elephant is one of the largest mammals on Earth. The majestic animal is a cultural icon in India and throughout Asia and helps maintain the integrity of the ecosystem in forests and grasslands. In the mythology of Asian countries, elephants personified royal greatness, longevity, kindness, generosity and intelligence. These majestic creatures have been loved by everyone since childhood.
Origin of the species and description
The genus Elephas originated in Africa south of the Sahara during the Pliocene and spread throughout the African continent. Then the elephants came to the southern half of Asia. The earliest evidence for the use of Indian elephants in captivity are seal engravings of the Indus Valley Civilization dating back to the 3rd millennium BC.
Video: Indian Elephant
Elephants have an important place in the cultural traditions of the Indian subcontinent. The main religions of India, Hinduism and Buddhism, traditionally use the animal in ceremonial processions. Hindus worship the god Ganesha, who is depicted as a man with the head of an elephant. Surrounded by reverence, Indian elephants were not killed as aggressively as African ones.
Indian is a subspecies of the Asian elephant, which includes:
- Sri Lankan elephant;
- Borneo elephant.
The Indian subspecies is the most widely distributed, unlike the other three Asian elephants. Domesticated animals were used for forestry and for fighting. There are many places in Southeast Asia where Indian elephants are kept for tourists and they are often mistreated. Asian elephants are famous for their great strength and friendliness towards people.
Appearance and features
In general, Asian elephants are smaller than African ones. They reach a shoulder height of 2 to 3.5 m, weigh 2,000 to 5,000 kg, and have 19 pairs of ribs. The length of the head and body is between 550 and 640 cm.
Elephants have thick, dry skin. Its color varies from gray to brown with small patches of depigmentation. The tail on the body and the extended trunk on the head allow the animal to make both precise and powerful movements. Males have unique modified incisors known to us as tusks. Females are usually smaller than males and have short or no tusks.
Curious! The brain of an Indian elephant weighs about 5 kg. And the heart beats only 28 times per minute.
Due to the wide variety of habitats, representatives of the Indian subspecies have several adaptations that make them unusual animals.
- The torso has about 150,000 muscles;
- The tusks are used to uproot the roots; they grow 15 cm a year;
- An Indian elephant can drink 200 liters of water every day;
- Unlike their African counterparts, their belly is proportional to their body weight and head.
Indian elephants have large heads, but small necks. They have short but powerful legs. Large ears help regulate body temperature and communicate with other elephants. However, their ears are smaller than those of the African species. The Indian elephant has a more curved spine than the African elephant, and the skin color is lighter than that of the Asian counterpart.
Where does the Indian elephant live?
The Indian elephant is native to mainland Asia: India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Malay Peninsula, Laos, China, Cambodia and Vietnam. Completely extinct as a species in Pakistan. Lives in grasslands, as well as in evergreen and semi-evergreen forests.
In the early 1990s, the wild populations were:
- 27,700–31,300 in India, where numbers are limited to four general areas: in the northwest at the foot of the Himalayas in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh; in the northeast — from the eastern border of Nepal to western Assam. In the central part of — in Odisha, Jharkhand and in the southern part of West Bengal where some animals roam. In the south — eight populations are separated from each other in northern Karnataka;
- 100–125 individuals have been recorded in Nepal, where their range is limited to several protected areas. In 2002, estimates ranged from 106 to 172 elephants, most of which are in Bardia National Park.
- 150-250 elephants in Bangladesh, where only isolated populations survive;
- 250-500 in Bhutan, where their range is limited to protected areas in the south along the border with India;
- About 4000-5000 in Myanmar, where numbers are highly fragmented (females predominate);
- 2100–3100 in Malaysia;
- 500 –1000 Laos, where they are sparsely distributed in forest areas, highlands and lowlands;
- 200-250 in China, where Asian elephants have survived only in the prefectures of Xishuangbanna, Simao and Lincang in southern Yunnan;
- 250-600 in Cambodia, where they live in the mountains of the southwest and in the provinces of Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri;
- 70–150 in the southern parts of Vietnam.
2500–3200 individuals in Thailand, mostly in the mountains along the border with Myanmar, with fewer fragmented herds found in the south of the peninsula;
These statistics do not include domesticated individuals.
Photo: Asian Indian Elephants
Elephants are classified as herbivores and consume up to 150 kg of vegetation per day. In an area of 1130 km² in southern India, elephants have been recorded feeding on 112 different plant species, most commonly from the legume, palm, sedge and grass families. Their consumption of greens depends on the season. When new vegetation appears in April, they eat the tender shoots.
Later, when the grasses begin to exceed 0.5 m, Indian elephants uproot them with clods of earth, skillfully separate the earth and absorb fresh tops of leaves, but refuse roots. In autumn, elephants peel and consume the succulent root crops. Bamboo prefers to eat young seedlings, stems and side shoots.
During the dry season from January to April, Indian elephants roam the leaves and branches, preferring fresh foliage, and consume the thorny shoots of the acacia without any obvious discomfort. They feed on locust bark and other flowering plants and consume the fruits of the wood apple (feronia), tamarind (Indian date) and date palm.
This is important! Habitat loss is forcing elephants to seek alternative food sources from the farms, settlements, and plantations that have grown on their ancient forest lands.
In Nepal's Bardia National Park, Indian elephants consume large amounts of winter floodplain grass, especially during the monsoon season. During the dry season, they rely more on bark, which makes up the bulk of their diet during the cooler part of the season.
During a study in a 160 km² tropical leafy area in Assam, elephants were observed to feed on approximately 20 species of grasses, plants and trees. Such herbs, like leersia, are by no means the most common component of their diet.
Character and lifestyle features
Indian mammals follow strict migratory routes that are determined by the monsoon season. The eldest of the herd is responsible for remembering the ways of moving his clan. Indian elephant migration usually occurs between the wet and dry seasons. Problems arise when farms are built along the herd's migratory routes. In this case, Indian elephants cause great damage to newly established farmlands.
Elephants tolerate cold more easily than heat. Usually at noon they are in the shade and flap their ears, trying to cool the body. Indian elephants douse themselves with water, roll in the mud, protecting their skin from insect bites, drying out and burns. They are very mobile, have an excellent sense of balance. The device of the foot allows them to move even through wetlands.
The disturbed Indian elephant moves at speeds up to 48 km/h. He raises his tail, warning of danger. Elephants are good swimmers. They need to sleep for 4 hours daily, while they do not lie on the ground, with the exception of sick individuals and young animals. The Indian elephant has an excellent sense of smell, sharp hearing, but poor eyesight.
It's curious! The elephant's huge ears serve as a hearing amplifier, so its hearing is much superior to that of a human. They use infrasound to communicate over long distances.
Elephants have a diverse range of calls, roars, squeals, snorts, etc., they share them with their relatives about danger, stress, aggression and demonstrate affection for each other. friend.
Social structure and reproduction
Females usually create family clans, consisting of an experienced female, her offspring, and juvenile elephants of both sexes. Previously, herds consisted of 25-50 heads and even more. Now the number is 2-10 females. Males lead a solitary life, except during mating periods. Indian elephants do not have a special mating season.
By the age of 15-18, the males of the Indian elephant become capable of reproduction. After that, every year they fall into a state of euphoria, called must (“intoxication”). During this period, their testosterone levels rise significantly, their behavior becomes very aggressive. Elephants become dangerous even for humans. The must lasts about 2 months.
Male elephants, when ready to mate, begin to puff up their ears. This allows them to spread their pheromones, secreted from the skin gland located between the ear and eye, to a greater distance and attract females. Usually older males from 40 to 50 years old mate. Females are ready to breed by the age of 14.
Interesting fact! Younger males usually cannot withstand the strength of older ones, so they do not marry until they are much older. This circumstance makes it difficult to increase the number of Indian elephants.
Elephants hold the record for the longest period of time from conception to birth. The gestation period is 22 months. Females are capable of giving birth to one cub every four to five years. At birth, baby elephants are one meter tall and weigh about 100 kg.
A baby elephant can stand soon after birth. He is taken care of not only by his mother, but also by other females of the herd. An Indian elephant stays with his mother until he is 5 years old. Having gained independence, the males leave the herd, while the females remain. The life expectancy of Indian elephants is about 70 years.
Indian elephants natural enemies
Due to their huge size, Indian elephants have few predators. In addition to tusk hunters, tigers are the main predators, although they prey more often on baby elephants or weakened animals, rather than on larger and stronger individuals.
Indian elephants form herds, so it is difficult for predators to defeat them alone. Lone male elephants are very healthy, so they do not often become prey. Tigers hunt an elephant in a group. A full-grown elephant can kill a tiger if it's not careful, but if the animals are hungry enough, they'll take the risk.
Elephants spend a lot of time in the water, so young elephants can become victims of crocodiles. However, this does not happen often. Most of the time, young animals are safe. Also, hyenas often loiter around the herd when they feel signs of illness in one of the members of the group.
A curious fact! Elephants tend to die in a certain place. And this means that they do not internally feel the approach of death and know when their hour will come. The places where old elephants go are called elephant cemeteries.
However, the biggest problem for elephants comes from humans. It's no secret that humans have been hunting them for decades. With weapons that people have, animals simply do not have a chance to survive.
Indian elephants are large and destructive animals, and small farmers can lose all their property overnight from their raid. These animals also cause great damage to large agricultural corporations. Devastating raids provoke retaliation and humans kill elephants in retaliation.
Species population and status
The growing population of Asian countries is looking for new lands to live in. This also affected the habitats of Indian elephants. Illegal encroachment into protected areas, clearing forests for roads, and other development projects are causing habitat loss, leaving little room for large animals to live.
Habitat displacement not only leaves Indian elephants without reliable food sources and refuge, but also causes them to become isolated in a limited population and unable to move along their ancient migration routes and mix with other herds.
Also, the population of Asian elephants is declining due to the hunting of poachers who are interested in their tusks. But unlike their African counterparts, only males have tusks in the Indian subspecies. Poaching distorts the sex ratio, which is contrary to the breeding rates of the species. The poaching rate is increasing due to the demand for ivory in the middle class in Asia, despite the fact that in the civilized world there is a ban on the ivory trade.
On a note! Baby elephants are taken from the wild from their mothers for Thailand's tourism industry. Mothers are often killed, and baby elephants are placed next to non-native females to hide the fact of abduction. Elephant calves are often subjected to “training”, which includes restriction of movement and starvation.
Indian Elephant Conservation
The number of Indian elephants is constantly decreasing at the moment. This increases the risk of their extinction. Since 1986, the Asian elephant has been listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List as its wild population has declined by 50%. Today, the Asian elephant is threatened by habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation.
It is important! The Indian Elephant is listed on CITES Annex I. In 1992, Project Elephant was launched by the Ministry of Environment and Forests of the Government of India to provide financial and technical support for the free distribution of wild Asian elephants.
The project aims to ensure the long-term survival of viable and sustainable elephant populations in their natural habitat by protecting habitat and migratory corridors. Other goals of the Elephant Project are to support research into the ecology and management of elephants, raise awareness of the local population, improve veterinary care for captive elephants.
In the foothills of northeast India, in an area of almost 1160 km harbor for the largest population of elephants in the country. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is working to secure this elephant population in the long term by maintaining their habitat, greatly reducing existing threats, and supporting the conservation of the population and its habitat.
Partly in western Nepal and eastern India, WWF and partners are restoring biological corridors so that elephants can access their migration routes without disturbing human habitations. The long term goal is to reunite the 12 protected areas and encourage community action to mitigate conflict between humans and elephants. WWF supports biodiversity conservation and raising awareness among local communities about elephant habitats.