Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus)

These very intelligent and enormous mammals can grow up to 3m tall and 6.4m long. A male elephant weighs around 5.4 tonnes – equivalent to 5,400 packets of sugar! And despite their size their charge speed can reach nearly 50kmph.

You can find Asian elephants all through Asia, but they are already extinct in 3 countries, and there are only around 50,000 left in the wild.

Habitat loss is the main threat to these animals. Elephants eat around 150kg of vegetation a day, and as human populations increase, elephant feeding grounds are destroyed. They raid crops, destroy properties, and sometimes even kill people. Villagers often retaliate by killing the elephants, and experts now believe this to be the main cause of elephant deaths in Asia.

Other threats include poaching for ivory. And since only males have tusks, poaching has resulted in populations becoming skewed towards females, which has reduced breeding rates. Elephants have also become isolated as human settlements cut off ancient migratory routes and these small groups are at risk from inbreeding and disease.

Conservation efforts include laws that make poaching illegal, although they are hard to enforce. Many elephants live in protected reserves but these are often too small, which leads to human-elephant conflict. The creation of wildlife corridors to extend reserve lands, together with the end of poaching, are some of the steps needed to secure the future of the Asian elephant.

How to tell an Asian Elephant from an African Elephant

1.Asian elephants have smaller bodies and ears

2.The trunks of Asian elephants have only a single, finger-like end, while African elephants have two

3.Both male and female African elephants have tusks, but in Asian elephants only the males have them, and in some countries they don’t have tusks at all.

» Find out how else you can help to protect Sri Lanka's endangered species

Illustration by Asia Hewapathirana

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