Compared to their African counterparts, Asian elephants are smaller in size, with small, rounded ears. Their foreheads are more rounded with two “lobes,” and they have one “finger” on the tip of their trunks (Africans have two). Extremely flexible, muscular, and sensitive, the trunk is an elongation of the nose and upper lip and serves many purposes: breathing, touching, smelling, feeding, bathing, scratching, trumpeting, and manipulating objects. While swimming, an elephant can breathe through its trunk like a snorkel. Baby elephants even suck on their trunks much as human babies suck their thumbs. Contrary to popular belief, elephants cannot drink directly through their trunks. Rather, up to two gallons of water are drawn into the trunk like a straw, raised to the mouth, and then squirted out the nostrils. Elephants have four brick-sized molars at a time. As they wear down and fall out, new molars replace them for a total of 24 in a lifetime.
Herds of females (cows) and their offspring are led by a matriarch, the oldest and most experienced female. Elephants communicate with one another using infrasonic rumbles that can be heard more than two miles away. Fully grown males (bulls) are rarely seen with family groups unless it is mating season. Mature bulls intermittently enter a condition called musth, which signals sexual health and social rank. This can last a few weeks to months. During this period, testosterone levels are higher, glands on the sides of the head discharge an aromatic, sticky secretion, and bulls become more aggressive as they search for potential mates. Gestation lasts for 21-22 months after which one calf is born weighing about 200 pounds. Calves are dependent on their mothers’ for milk for three years. Female offspring remain with the herd for life; males leave the family when they reach puberty at 6-7 years of age. The Asian elephant population is estimated at 30,000 to 50,000 individuals. Elephants have been illegally killed for their tusks (ivory). Much of their habitat has been lost, and conflict between humans and elephants is increasing.
Asian elephants are listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Elephants have been hunted illegally for their tusks (ivory), and much of their habitat has been destroyed. The Los Angeles Zoo participates in an Elephant Species Survival Plan.
Asian elephants are found in forests and grasslands of Southeast Asia. India is home to about 60 percent of the population, with smaller populations in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal.
Asian elephants eat grasses, shrubs, fruits, vegetables, and bark. In the wild, they may consume 300 pounds of food each day and spend 18 to 20 hours foraging and eating.
Males grow up to 10 feet tall and weigh 12,000 to 13,000 pounds. Females are smaller weighing 7,000 to 8,000 pounds. Lifespan is up to 60 years in the wild and up to 70 years in expert care.