Dec 13, 2007
About Asian Elephants
Asian Elephants, the only elephant species used by most circuses, including Ringling Brothers, are endangered in the wild, due to poaching, hunting, and the destruction of their natural habitat. Asian elephants’ range includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam. They are listed as “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, which prohibits anyone from “killing,” “harming,” or “harassing” them.
Asian elephants are extremely intelligent and social animals. Adults weigh between 6,000-10,000 pounds, and live to be approximately 65 years old. In the wild, Asian elephants live in matriarchal family groups, or herds, in which mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and aunts all play roles in raising babies and young elephants. There are strong bonds within these family units, and baby elephants are not usually being weaned until they are about four years old or older when their mothers are ready to give birth again. Female elephants remain with their mothers and other members of their herds for their entire lives, while male elephants leave their natal herds when they are roughly thirteen years old.
Elephants’ close-knit family groups stay together, assist in the rearing of the young, support their sick and mourn their dead. The Matriarch of the herd mentors other elephants, passing on wisdom and knowledge paramount to the survival of the herd. Both female and male elephants learn important social and survival skills from their mother, aunts, and the rest of their natal herd. Each elephant family group roams within an area called the home range and searches for food, water, and other resources together. In the wild, elephants typically travel about thirty to fifty miles a day, foraging for food and socializing with their herds.
Elephants are extremely sensitive and perceptive creatures. They communicate with each other through infrasound – extremely low vibrations that cannot be heard with human ears. In addition to sending and receiving infrasound communications capable of traveling several miles through the air, researchers believe that elephants also send and receive these communications through the ground, with their fleshy footpads acting as the transmittal and receptor devices.
The biggest threats facing Asian elephants are habitat loss, elephant-human conflicts, and elephant poaching. Maintaining sufficient natural habitat for Asian elephants has increasingly become a daunting task due primarily to an encroaching human population and logging in areas used by elephants. Elephant-human conflicts result when elephants who do not have enough habitat to forage for food are forced into areas inhabited by humans. Elephants straying into human occupied areas eat agricultural crops and cause other damage, which results in the animals being shot, translocated, or captured. Elephants are also illegally killed or poached in the wild for their ivory tusks.
Habitat preservation, resolution of human-elephant conflicts, and efforts to monitor and prevent elephant poaching all require extensive resources. These threats to Asian elephants can only be solved by ensuring adequate investment in securing native range habitats, mitigating elephant-human conflicts, and increasing the number of active ground patrols to prevent poaching in native Asian elephant ranges.