The Asiatic elephant or the Indian elephant is one of the most well-distributed sub–species of the Asian elephant found mainly in India and Nepal. They are the largest living animals in India. Indian national parks are famous for the sightings of this majestic elephant. Tourists are awe struck by this magnificent elephant as they amble around the forest floor of the Indian jungles, flapping their huge ears. It is believed that mammoth of the pre-historic times is the predecessor of the Asian elephant. If you are wondering, where do Indian elephants live? The Asiatic elephant is found in the lower ranges of the Himalayas, the Western Ghats and forests of Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Orrisa, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
ASIAN / INDIAN ELEPHANT FACTS
Physical Characteristics: The Indian elephants vs African elephants, are slightly smaller than their African counterparts and have smaller rounded ears (The ears of African elephants are bigger and cover their shoulders). The elephant’s trunk on an Asian elephant have a fingerlike feature with a single lobe of flesh at the tip of the trunk (African elephants have two lobes of flesh). Other minute differences are in their:
- Forehead – Indian elephants have foreheads with two humps. African elephants have a smooth curve without any humps.
- Skin – African elephants have more wrinkled looser skin
- No. of toes – Indian elephants (Five on the front legs, and four at the back); African elephants (Four or five at front, three on the back legs each).
Asian elephants weigh between 2,000 and 5,000 kgs. They reach about 6.4 m in length and a shoulder height of about 2 to 3.5 m. Their back is convex shaped. Female elephants are smaller in size and are generally tusk less. Indian elephants have generally small ears but broader trunks and larger trunks than the African elephant. Their skin color ranges from dark grey to brown with small patches of pink on head, trunks and the chest. The lifespan of an Indian elephant is an average of 60 years in the wild and 80 years in captivity
Habitat: The Asiatic elephants love bamboos and generally like to stay in areas with tall trees providing good shade as they move around. They generally move in big herd comprising of extended family of aunt and cousins which is always led by an experienced and senior female elephant. In dry season, they generally prefer to remain in the dense areas of forests but they can also raid the spare cultivation fields in search of food and water. Elephants generally follow familiar path and stay in well acquainted areas. They generally feed in the early mornings and the late evenings and love to rest during the hotter parts of the day. They love to feed on bamboos, grasses, leaves, bananas, sugarcane, crops from the field. The normal requirement of an average sized elephant is about 250 to 300 kg of fodder.
Distribution in India: India is home to between 50 and 60% of all of Asia’s wild elephants and about 20% of the domesticated elephants. The Indian Elephants are found in the dry deciduous forests of Northern and Central India. They are also found in the dense jungles of the North-east India. They also roam around the Western Ghats of south India and forests of Kerala. Many national parks of India have taken steps in protecting the Indian elephant. These elephants can be sighted in almost all major national parks of India like Kanha, Corbett, Jaldapara, Periyar, Ranthambore, Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve etc.,
Threats: Want to know why the Indian elephants are endangered? The eminent threats faced by the Asiatic elephants now include fragmentation, degradation and habitat loss due to the over expanding human population. Because of the increasing hydroelectric projects, reservoirs the movement of elephants has been restricted in various parts of forests. The encroachment of forest areas for the cultivation purpose has led to the impediment of the free movement of the Indian elephants. In West Bengal there is high level of human – elephant conflict as many elephants become the victims of railway accidents. The majority of accidents has been seen across the 74 km long Alipur – Siliguri railway track. Poaching for ivory is another major threat for the endangerment of Indian elephants. Illegal timber production is another major reason that has led to the fragmentation of habitat and its destruction.
Conservation: In 1992 the Government of India launched Project Elephant, in order to fund the protection and conservation of wild Asian Elephants in India. The main aim of the Project was to protect the migration corridors of elephants. The other goals of the include supporting research on the ecology of elephants. The project also works on raising awareness amongst people as well as providing care for the captive elephants. The last elephant census (which is done on every five year interval basis) was carried out in 2012 and elephant population in India during that year (2012) was estimated to be in between 29,391-30,711 (a 11% growth compared to the census done in 2007). The next census is due in the year 2017.