The elephants are Earth’s largest land animal and are found in the Sahara Desert region in Africa and much of Asia, including China and India. They are found in savannah areas or in rainforests in these parts of the world. African elephants prefer drier habitats, and Asian elephants prefer forests and woodier areas. You can also find elephants captive in many zoos, all across the world.
Of the two species, African elephants are divided into two subspecies (savannah and forest), while the Asian elephant is divided into four subspecies (Sri Lankan, Indian, Sumatran and Borneo).
The African elephant
Loxodonta Africana, the savannah elephant can be identified by their larger ears that look somewhat like the continent of Africa and is the largest land animal on Earth. They can weighs up to eight tons. The largest African elephant recorded weighed over nine tons and stood more than twelve feet high at the shoulder.
African elephants once roamed across most of the continent from the northern Mediterranean coast to the southern tip. But they are now confined to a much smaller range, with the highest densities found in Botswana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Zambia and South Africa.
Back in the early part of the 20th century, there may have been as many as 3-5 million African elephants. Since 1979, African elephants have lost over 50% of their range and this, along with massive poaching for ivory and trophies over the decades, has seen the population drop significantly, and there are now only around 500,000 elephant left!
The Loxodonta Africana Cyclotis, is a forest-dwelling species of the African elephants and inhabit the densely wooded rainforests of west and central Africa. Forest elephants are smaller and darker than their savanna relatives and have smaller and characteristically rounded ears
than savanna elephants. They are found most commonly in countries with relatively large blocks of dense forest such as Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Cameroon and Central African Republic in central Africa and Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Ghana in west Africa.
The Asian elephant
There are three subspecies of Asian elephant – the Indian, Elephas Maximus Indicus Sumatran, Elephas Maximus Sumatranus and Sri Lankan, Elephas Maximu. However, some studies suggest that Borneo pygmy elephants could be a separate subspecies. If so, they would be the smallest. They are also more rotund and have babyish faces, larger ears, and longer tails that almost reach the ground. They are appear to be less aggressive than other Asian elephants.
More than 100,000 Asian elephants may have existed at the start of the 20th century, but numbers have fallen by at least 50% over the last three generations, and they are still in decline today. The Indian has the widest range and accounts for the majority of the remaining elephants on the continent, while the Sri Lankan is restricted to a few parts of the island. Sumatran elephants were once widespread on Sumatra, but they have lost 70% of their habitat and only survive in fragmented populations.
Asian elephants are highly intelligent, long-lived mammals that may reach up to 60 years of age in the wild. They are also extremely sociable and occur in groups of related females that may sometimes join together to form herds, although these are more transient than those of African savanna elephants.
The importants of Elephants
Elephants play an important role in the forest and savannah ecosystems in which they live. Many plant species are dependent on passing through an elephant’s digestive tract before they can germinate. It is calculated that at least a third of tree species in west African forests rely on elephants in this way.
Elephants browsing on vegetation also affect the structure of habitats and influence bush fire patterns. For example, under natural conditions, elephants make gaps through the rainforest, enabling the sunlight to enter which allows the growth of a various plant species. This in turn facilitates a more abundant and more diverse fauna of smaller animals.
Also, elephants are considered to be very social and intelligent. They usually travel in herds and even have their own language to talk to each other. They have been known to help other species of animals that they see in need of help. They watch over their ill and seem to feel sorrowful about loss of a herd member. Even in captivity, elephants can be taught to perform certain tasks. There is also a belief that they feel emotions.
Elephants, both African and Asian are considered to be endangered species today.
Threats to African Elephants
The two main historical factors behind the decline of African elephants
– demand for ivory and changes in land-use.
The poaching of elephants for ivory, meat, hide and other parts (mainly for use in traditional medicine) has been used by humans since the earliest times. Ivory can be sold for a lot of money. In fact, ivory has been called “white gold” because it is beautiful, easily carved, durable, and pleasing to the touch. Most of the world’s ivory is carved in Japan, Hong Kong, and other Asian countries, where skilled carvers depend on a supply of ivory for their livelihoods. Local people often had few other ways to make a living, and subsistence farmers or herders could make more by selling the tusks of one elephant than they could make in a dozen years of farming or herding. So when the buying stops the killing stops!
While the illegal trade in ivory remains a real threat, current concern for the survival of the African elephant centres around the reduction of their habitat. Due to climate change, global warming has caused some of the elephant’s favorite places to live to dry up and be unable to produce crops to feed the elephants, leading the elephants to move closer to places where humans live to find food to eat. Where many elephants sadly get shot by game guards, for trying to protect their livelihood. As human populations continue to grow throughout the elephants’ range, habitat loss and degradation are expected to become the major threats to elephants survival.
Threats to Asian Elephants
Asian elephants are also killed for their tusks, meat and skin. But the elephant poaching is not as severe a threat as it is in Africa, because only Asian male elephants have tusks. All African elephants, including females, have tusks. However, the Asian elephants have had a close relationship with man for thousands of years, playing an important role in religious and cultural history but also serving as work animals – they have been domesticated and are used transportation, to move heavy objects and the tourism industry.
These animals are typically captured with traps and lassoos from the wild when they are 10–20 years old, when they can be trained quickly and easily, and will have a longer working life. India, Vietnam, and Myanmar have banned capture in order to conserve their wild herds, but in Myanmar elephants are still caught each year for the timber industry or the illegal wildlife trade. Today there is 13,000–16,500 working elephants employed in Asia as of 2000. In Thailand the elephants are illegal captured and trade for use in the tourism industry which also is a big problem. Foreign visitors all want to ride elephants, or watch them do tricks, paying good money for the privilege. But the fact is that wild elephants need to be tamed before they can be ridden by humans. So in order to tame a wild elephant, it is tortured as a baby to completely break its spirit. The process is called Phajaan, or “the crush”.
It involves ripping baby elephants away from their mothers and confining them in a very small space, like a cage or hole in the ground where they’re unable to move.