Know the Indian ElephantsThe Indian elephant (Elephas maximus indicus) is a one of three subspecies of the Asian elephant ''Elephas maximus". The other two subspecies of the Asian elephant are E. m. sumatranus on Sumatra and E. m. maximus on Sri Lanka. The Indian elephant for example, is larger, has longer front legs and a thinner body as compared to other Asian elephants found in Thailand.
Through adaptive radiation, elephants until the Pleistocene Era (2 million years ago) had spread throughout the world except for Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica. Their majestic size was one factor in allowing this immense radiation and they could be found in a wide variety of habitats from desert to high mountain forest areas. They can easily move through swamps or climb mountainous terrain that is too difficult for a horse.
The Asian elephant has been captured, tamed and worked by people for more than 4,000 years; it triggers the human imagination like no other animal. An average Indian elephant is anything between 2.4 m to 3 m tall, and weighs anything between 3,600 kg to 5000 kg! Elephants in general are the largest existing land mammals and they have the biggest brains in the animal kingdom (weighing 5 kg or 11 lbs). Their hearts beat 28 times a minute. It also requires about 200 kg of green fodder, and due to dwindling habitat areas, there has been a drastic fall in their numbers. They are now an endangered species.
Key Factors Class : Mammalia Indian Elephant : Elephas maximus indicus Population : India’s elephant population is estimated between 10,000 and 15,000, the largest in Asia. Major Sites : About half of these are found in the northeastern states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya located in far northeastern India.
The basic social structure is made up of a family group consisting of 2 to 10 females and their offspring. It has been found that groups of 3 or less adult females with offspring are more stable than larger groups. Young males start to move out of the family group between the ages of 6 and 7 years old. Young males mix up with each other in transitory groups until they reach adulthood. When they become full-grown males they live in solitude and only associate with a group when courting a female in estrus.
There are only two elephant species existing today - the African Elephant, and the Asian or Indian Elephant. The African species are bigger then the Indian one. Elephants live in a matriarchal society that are led by females in herds of 3 to 10, with 2-3 mature cows, calves and sub-adults all traverse together from one place to another in search of food. Adult males are separated from the herd as a protection against inbreeding. The gestation period of elephants is very long, from between 19 to 21 months, and hence the birth rate is low. Also, there has to be a minimum interval of four years between two calves, and so the growth rate of the population is slow too. However, the life expectancy of an Indian Elephant is 70 to 80 years, and they are versatile creatures that adapt to diverse living conditions.
Habitat & Diets
The Asian elephant is found in the wild in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam. Asian elephants are randomly nomadic in accord with the season. Historically, they travel on a set course over longer periods that may take them as much as ten years to complete before arriving back at any one point. However, these travel patterns have been greatly reduced as fast-growing human populations now confine most elephants to National Parks because of habitat destruction and settlement encroachment.
They are found in a wide variety of forest types, but they tend to avoid large forests of closed canopies. Their distribution is limited by the need for water (about 100 liters) every day. Elephants are herbivores and spend up to 20 hours a day eating anywhere from 150 kg to 300 kg of jungle fodder or 6% to 8% of their body weight in food each day. They prefer feeding on grasses; however they also eat large amounts of bark, roots and leaves. Understandably, when elephants come across cultivated crops this food becomes addicting and as a result leads to human elephant confrontations. As far as cultivated foods, they seem to prefer rice, bananas and sugar cane.
Elephants & Conservation
The elephant population is vulnerable to unscrupulous poachers due to their precious ivory tusks. Elephant tusks can weigh up to 22 kg a pair. Elephants feed on barks, roots, fruit and grasses. The elephant population is now part of the Elephant Project, a nation wide conservation effort to protect these lumbering beasts from extinction. Manas, Corbett, Dalma and Palamu, Bandipur and Nagarhole, Periyar and Madumalai are the best places to watch the Indian Elephant in its natural habitat.