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Asian Elephant

Elephas Maximus

  1. Not Evaluated
  2. Data Deficient
  3. Least Concern
  4. Near Threatened
  5. Vulnerable
  6. Endangered
  7. Critically Endangered
  8. Extinct in the Wild
  9. Extinct

About Us

Elephants are the largest land mammal in the world; they are strong and also very intelligent and social. Inhabiting Asia’s forests, elephants are herbivorous and are seen in large family groups. Also known as Pachyderms, which is derived from a Greek word meaning ‘thick skinned’.

There are five Asian Elephants living at Woburn Safari Park, including four females -  Yu-Zin, Damini, Chandrika and calf Tarli, along with one male - Raja. Damini, Chandrika and Raja came from West Bengal in India in 1997 and Yu-Zin came from Holland in 2010.

Yu-Zin is our oldest Elephant here at the park and was born in 1979, Chandrika was born in 1992 and Damini and Raja were both born in 1994. Elephant calf Tarli was born to mum Damini and dad Raja in September 2014. 

 

 

Distribution
Asia, Sri Lanka, Borneo and Sumatra
Habitat
Grassland, Forest and Scrubland
Height
Up to 10ft (3m) tall
Weight
3 to 5 tonnes
Lifespan
60-75 years in captivity
Threats
Loss of habitat, poaching for ivory

Social Structure

Asian Elephants are herd animals and are seen within family groups of on average six or seven individuals consisting of females and their calves. Within each herd is a Matriarch, this is normally the eldest most experienced female in the herd who is seen as the leader. Males will stay within the herd until they reach sexual maturity; this is normally around the age of 13. They will then live alone or join a bachelor group.

Breeding Behaviour

Both female and male Asian elephants reach sexual maturity between the ages of 10 and 15. When their habitat conditions are of good quality, they can give birth every three to four years. Males will have to compete with other males for the cycling females; after mating with the selected females, the male will leave the herd or chased away.

Between 18-22 months later a single calf is born weighing between 80-140kg, very rarely are twins born. The calf will begin to eat grass after two months however will suckle from the mother or other lactating females in the herd for up to three years.

Adult males will undergo a period called musth each year that can last for months, their testosterone levels increase dramatically, causing aggressive behaviour, and a leaking from the temporal glands. Throughout musth males will wander looking for cycling females, and compete against other males for successful mating.

Diet

Asian Elephants are herbivores and will spend the majority of the morning, late afternoon and night time grazing, their diet primarily consists of grass however they will also eat bark, leaves, shrubs, roots, vines and fruit. Each individual will consume around 150kg a day; however, most of this comes out in their faeces, as they will only digest around 40% of their intake. Elephants will drink between 70-90 litres of water a day.

Physical Features

The Asian Elephant is the largest land mammal along with the African Elephant. They have thick skin which is a grey/ brown colour covered in hairs, on some parts of the elephant their skin is 1.5 inches thick. Elephants have poor eyesight considering their size; however, their hearing is extremely good meaning they can communicate in very low ranges and using sounds that can travel great distances.

Their brain is 5kg in weight, which is four times the average weight of a man's brain. In contrast to African elephants, Asian elephants have ears that are smaller, the back is not dipped it is arched, the head is the highest part of the body rather than the shoulders, the trunk has a single finger-like projection rather than two, and the front and back feet have a different number of toe nails.

Africans have four nails on the front feet and three on the back, whereas the Asian Elephants have five on their front feet and four on the back. Elephants walk on a pad of elastic tissue acting as a shock absorber making very little noise and impression on the ground as they walk. Elephants have only four teeth in their mouths, all are molar teeth; they get six sets of these throughout their life time. Elephants can also develop teeth outside of the mouth which are modified incisors, these are known as tusks which are seen in the African elephants and the male Asians, although some female Asian’s will develop small incisors that grow only a few inches long which are known as tushes.

Enrichment and Husbandry

As elephants are very intelligent it is important to provide plenty of enrichment to keep them stimulated. Here at Woburn the Elephant house is designed to be as enriching as possible for the elephants. The floor of the elephant house has three different substrates (surfaces); sand, rubber and bark chip. They especially enjoy sand for dusting, the bark chip for sleeping and the rubber for having their daily baths.

The house has specially designed feeders for the elephant's hay, with feeder holes and a mesh surface on the other side making the elephants work their trunk and pull the hay through the mesh and out the holes. There are also six winches in the house allowing us to hang enrichment high up encouraging them to work their muscles and keeping them entertained throughout the night, On the winches currently there are hay nets, a large tyre, a chain so the keepers can hang large tree branches high up, and a ball made of weaved fire hose, where fruit can be hidden. Another very simple enrichment activity provided by the elephant team is placement of various large logs distributed throughout the house for the elephants to play with.

Woburn's elephants are taken care of with having a daily bath, using a heated pressure washer, this is when they are thoroughly health checked, their bath is then followed by breakfast. The elephants are walked to a grass paddock where they can graze.

The elephants at Woburn are often walked around the park and out into the park grounds. Woburn has nearly 3,000 acres of accessible parkland which gives them a variety of different browse, grasses and substrates.

Regular foot care is carried out on the elephants using tools similar to those a farrier uses on a horse. The house is then cleaned from top to bottom and set up ready for when the elephants come in for the night.

Threats

The main threat to Asian elephants in the wild is human-elephant conflict.

The first and most damaging is the loss of their habitat; this is causing numbers to decline rapidly. As human populations increase, forests and woodlands are being cut down and used for agriculture or urban dwellings.  This means elephants lose access to vital food and water and their migratory routes are cut off.

Elephants are therefore coming into contact with humans more frequently and their demand for food consequently forces them to raid crops, which can result in farmers shooting them, electrocuting them and poisoning them. They will destroy whole villages in the search for food, sometimes resulting in the loss of human life and villagers will retaliate by killing elephants.

Their second main threat is the illegal ivory trade, Elephants are being killed for their tusks, It is a much bigger threat for the African elephants due to both sexes having tusks, in Asia it is still happening but only on the males. This is affecting breeding and preventing the repopulation of the Asian Elephant. Ivory is turned into jewellery, ornaments, piano keys and used in medicines thought to have healing powers, it can be sold for a great deal of money to the right person, making ivory very valuable.

Asian Elephants are listed on Appendix I of CITES meaning they have the highest need for protection. There are many charities and conservation projects working to protect the Asian elephant.

Click here for more information on elephant conservation projects

Fun Facts

Elephants are excellent swimmers, they use their trunk as a snorkel

Elephants are believed to have the intelligence of an average 7 year old child

Elephants walk on their tip toes

Elephants have excellent balance and can stand on just their back two feet to reach the highest of tree branches

They can eat up to 160kg of food a day and can drink 80-160 gallons of water a day. They can suck 10 pints of water up their trunks in one go

Elephants can sleep standing up

An Elephants tusks can weigh up to 45kg

 

Raja Flipped

Meet Raja the Asian Elephant

Raja is the male elephant in the Woburn Safari Park herd, living with four females Chandrika, Damini, Yu Zin and calf Tarli, in a specially designed house.