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April 21, 2018  |  Login

Indian Elephant
Elephas maximus indicus

What Are They Like?

At a population of 20,000-25,000, Indian elephants are the most widely distributed of the three subspecies of Asian elephant. These elephants are cultural icons in India, a fact that many preservation efforts emphasize to inspire support. Indian elephants measure up to 21 feet (6.4 meters) in length, 6.5-11.5 feet (2-3.5 meters) in height and can weigh up to 5.4 tons. The elephants of this species are generally slightly smaller than their African counterparts; while females lack tusks, males’ tusks can be up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) long.

Where Do They Live?

Over half the population of Indian elephants live in grasslands and forests in India. Small populations also live in the Andaman Islands and Borneo.

Did You Know?
Indian elephants have smaller ears than African elephants.

How Are Babies Made?

Female elephants, called cows, usually have about four offspring through their 60- or 70-year lives. A cow gives birth to a calf weighing 110-220 pounds (50-100 kilograms)after a 22-month gestation period. While she is in labor, the other females in her group will form a circle around her for protection. Males leave their mothers and other female relatives at age six or seven and become solitary until they are mature enough to mate.

What Do They Eat?

These elephants require an immense amount of food to survive, and spend about two thirds of the day eating. As herbivores, they eat approximately 330 pounds (150 kilograms) of grass, tree bark, roots, leaves and small stems each day. Elephants also consume a lot of water, about 25 gallons (100 liters) per day, and so always try to linger near a water source.


What Do They Do?

Elephants have one of the most sophisticated social systems in the animal kingdom. Females travel together in groups of six or seven led by a matriarch. Groups will join together in large herds. Elephants have superior hearing and communicate over many miles by making a rumbling sound at frequencies that humans cannot hear. Elephants remember things for many years, such as regions with droughts or famine, or the locations of water. They bury their dead, and return to those burial places year after year.

How Concerned Should We Be?

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which keeps a "Red List" of species in danger worldwide, lists the Indian elephant as "endangered." The population reduction has been around 50% over the last three generations. While their populations are fairly stable in some places, they have become extinct in others.

The main threats to the Indian elephant are poaching and habitat loss. Recently, there has been significant research into just how harmful poaching can be to individual elephants. Many elephants that witness traumatic events such as the poaching of their family members display psychological symptoms of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Symptoms range from nightmares to abnormally aggressive behavior. This problem affects generations of elephants who come of age without adult role models.

What's Being Done?

Anti-poaching programs are aimed at protecting Indian elephants, as well as programs to reduce friction between humans and elephants that occur when elephants damage crops.


Swimming Elephant

Mother elephant stands her ground – an elephant blockade

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