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21. Asian Elephant

Elephas maximus


The largest land mammal in Asia, this intelligent, highly social animal lives in small groups led by the dominant female, or ‘matriarch’.

The elephant plays a crucial role in the forest ecosystem and have been dubbed ‘ecosystem engineers’. Commonly referred to as a ‘keystone’ species, it helps to open up forest clearings and distributes the seeds of trees and shrubs. The Asian elephant and the African elephant are the only surviving members of what was formerly a very diverse order; Proboscidea. The two species are both the only members of the family Elephantidae, and the order Proboscidea, but they are also both the only members of their respective genera. It may be that there are many distinct species among the populations currently defined as subspecies of Asian elephant, which may further highlight the importance to conserve every population. Threatened by poaching for their ivory, and the destruction of the forests in which they live, these magnificent animals are increasingly coming into conflict with people sharing their habitat. Effective management of the species and its environment are required in order to resolve these issues.

  • Order: Proboscidea
  • Family: Elephantidae
  • Population: 41,410 – 52,345
  • Trend: decreasing
  • Size: 5.5-6.4 m
  • Weight: 2,750-5,400kg

EDGE Score

EDGE Score: 5.78 (?)
ED Score: 39.66 (?)
GE / IUCN Red List (?)
Not Evaluated Data Deficient Least Concern Near Threatened Vulnerable Endangered Critically Endangered Extinct in the Wild Extinct


Elephantus maximus indicus is the most widely distributed subspecies, currently occurring in fragmented forest patches on the Asian mainland, from India and Nepal, east to Vietnam and Malaysia. Elephantus maximus maximus is restricted to the island of Sri Lanka, and Elephantus maximus sumatrensis and Elephantus maximus borneensis occur on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo respectively

Habitat and Ecology

They are found in a variety of habitats, ranging from thick jungle to grassy plains. It is generally found in scrub forest, particularly in areas of habitat mosaics containing both grasses and low woody plants and trees. They are very social animals, living in family groups consisting of related females and their offspring and are led by the oldest female, the ‘matriarch’. The species feeds during the morning and evening and at night, and rests in the shade during the heat of the day. The diet consists mostly of grasses, but bark, roots, stems, and the leaves of trees, vines and shrubs are also eaten. Cultivated crops such as bananas, rice and sugarcane are also favoured foods, bringing the species into conflict with local farmers. The trunk is used extensively for grasping food, as well as for drinking, smelling, touching, vocalising and throwing dust or water over the body.

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Loading species distribution map...

This wordcloud illustrates the threats facing this species. The size of each word indicates the extent of a species range that is affected by that threat (larger size means a greater area is affected). The colour of the word indicates how much that threat impacts the species (darker shades of red mean the threat is more severe).

Crops Wood plantations Livestock Hunting Logging

Threat wordcloud key:

Small area affected
Large area affected
Least severe
Most severe
Severity unknown
Source: The IUCN List of Threatened Species. Version 2017.1.
Available at:

Managing Human-Elephant Conflict in Thailand

  • Locations: Western Forest Conservation Complex, Kanchanaburi, west Thailand
  • Active dates: 2005 - 2015
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