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Asian elephants

Asian elephants
Scientific name: Elephas maximus
Number remaining: Around 40-50,000
Extinction risk: Endangered

About the Asian elephants

There are three subspecies of Asian elephant – the Indian, Sumatran and Sri Lankan. Asian elephants used to roam across most of Asia, but now they’re restricted to just 15% of their original range.

Asian elephants are smaller and have proportionally smaller ears than African elephants. They’re generally dark grey but often have pink or yellow marks on their face, ears and trunk.

Female Asian elephants are more social than males. They live in herds with their female relatives, while males usually live alone but sometimes form small groups with other males.

Habitat loss is the greatest threat to the Asian elephant – which lives in parts of the world with the biggest human populations. Asian elephant numbers have dropped by at least 50% over the last three generations, and they’re still in decline today.

Find out how you can help save Asian elephants

Why Asian elephants matter

 Asian elephants in rain forest. Malaysia

Elephants play an important role in maintaining their habitat. They’re important grazers and browsers, eating large amounts of vegetation every day – which helps shape the often-thick vegetation of the Asian landscape.

For example, in forests elephants create clearings and gaps in the tree canopy that allow sunlight to reach new seeds – allowing them to grow and naturally regenerate the forest. Forests provide important resources for both wildlife and people. So, by conserving the Asian elephant, we’re making sure their forest habitat continues to flourish for the benefit of all.


Threats to Asian elephants

Habitat loss

Asia is the world’s most densely populated continent. As the human population there grows rapidly, more and more wildlife habitat is lost or fragmented. Because Asian elephants roam large areas – sometimes up to 600 sq km – they’re one of the species that suffers most from lack of space and connected habitats.

Solar Electric Fence

Human-wildlife conflict

Elephants and people are coming into contact more often – and conflicts can occur. Elephants sometimes raid farmers’ fields and damage their crops, which they rely on for their livelihoods. And elephants may even kill people. As a result, farmers sometimes kill elephants to protect their livelihoods and family.

Poaching

Elephant poaching is not as severe a threat as it is in Africa, but Asian elephants are still killed for their tusks, meat and skin. They’re also taken from the wild for the live elephant trade – primarily going to Thailand for the tourism industry.

Wild asian elephants

How WWF is helping protect Asian elephants

Improving connections between elephant habitats

We’re helping protect habitats and improve connections between fragmented areas where Asian elephants live. We're working with governments and local communities to reduce conflict between people and elephants. And we’re influencing policy and legislation to benefit elephant conservation.

For example, in the Terai Arc – the lowlands of the Himalayas on the border between Nepal and India – we’re helping protect and restore degraded wildlife corridors so that large animals such as elephants can follow their traditional migratory routes without disturbing people’s homes and crops. This reduces conflict and creates more habitat for elephants.

Tackling poaching

We’re tackling poaching by working with law enforcement agencies and governments to improve the enforcement of laws on the illegal trade in elephants and their parts. We also work with TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade monitoring network) to reduce demand for products such as ivory in consumer markets.   Illegal wildlife trade

© A Christy Williams / WWF-Canon  Herd of Asian elephants in Rajaji National Park, North India

Working with local communties

We’re helping improve the livelihoods of people living alongside elephants, through activities that link economic development with elephant conservation. That way, people can see the benefits of keeping elephants alive, and their habitat intact, so they’ll want to conserve rather than harm this magnificent animal.


Asian elephants

Success story: Human elephant conflict down 60%

With our help, conflict between people and elephants around Corbett national park in India has reduced by 60% in just one year. In 2013, villagers comprising of 352 households renovated 3km of solar fencing to protect 150 hectares of cropland from marauding elephants. This is just one measure that’s helped achieve this reduction.

A lot of villagers have also switched from crops that attract elephants, such as sugarcane, to crops that aren’t palatable to elephants but still have economic value. This is a win-win situation – the villagers, their families and their livelihoods are safer, so the elephants are at less risk of being killed.
 

How you can help protect Asian elephants