Asian elephantslive in the scrub forests, jungles and grasslands of India and several countries in southeastern Asia, including Sumatra, Cambodia and Malaysia. Their diet mainly consists of grasses, leaves, roots, bark and other forms of vegetation. They live to be around 60 years old in their natural habitat and around 80 years old in captivity.
Asian elephants have thick grayish-brown skin and rounded ears that are smaller than those of African elephants. They’re also smaller in size overall, with adults reaching heights between 6.6 and 9.8 feet at the shoulder and weighing between 2.25 and 5.5 tons. They use their trunks for smelling, lifting, breathing and drinking. Male elephants use their tusks for digging up roots and taking bark off trees.
Asian elephants don’t have a defined breeding season, so births occur at any time during the year. Females have gestation periods that last between 18 and 22 months and produce one offspring. They typically give birth about every three to four years. The calf stays with the mother and the rest of the herd for several years.
Asian elephants form herds of about 20 females. The oldest female is in charge of the herd and determines where they should go for food and water. Male elephants leave the herd when they reach reproductive maturity at 14 years of age and often travel alone or with a few other males temporarily.
Asian elephants once roamed throughout western Asia and China, but they went extinct in those areas in 100 BC and the 14th century BC, respectively. Populations of this species in other parts of Asia have decreased considerably due to habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and poaching. In India, Asian elephants are now only found in a few different areas instead of being widespread.
The Asian elephant has been listed as endangered since 1986. The species has experienced a population decline of 50 percent or more in the past three generations. Habitat loss, conflict with humans and poaching for the ivory trade remain the biggest threats to the species. Conservation measures include reducing human-elephant encounters, enforcing legislation that curbs the ivory trade and protecting their natural habitat.
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