Elephant1   Elephant2   Elephant3 Elephant4 Elephant5 Elephant6


1) Systematic Position:

Phylum          -   Chordata
Subphylum    -   Vertebrata
Class              -   Mammalia
Subclass         -   Theria
Infraclass       -   Utheria
Superorder     -   Ferae
Order             -   Proboscidae

Scientific name:   Elephas maximus
Indian subspecies:   indicus & cuvieri


2) Geographical distribution:
In India: Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Kerala, Orissa, Tamilnadu, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and North eastern states. A feral in Andaman Islands.
Elsewhere: Bangladesh, China, Combidia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam.

3) Description: Elephants in general are the largest existing land mammals and they have the biggest brains in the animal kingdom (weighing 5 kg or 11lbs). In general the Indian elephant weigh between 3-5 tons (6,615 -11,025 lb); they are smaller than the African elephants, and possess small ears. An elephant has 5 nails on each forefeet and 4 on each hind foot and has a long trunk ending in a single lip. The Indian elephants from wild have been captured, tamed and worked by humans for more than 4000 years. It stirs the human imagination more than any other animals. Adverse situations like, mountain terrains or swamps which are difficult for even horse to cross, elephants found these easy to pass through. Female elephants are smaller than the males and are distinguished by two mammary glands located on the chest. The most important and curious about an elephant is its trunk and tusk. Elephants possess a long trunk and big teeth known as tusks.
Elephant’s long trunk has more than 100,000 muscles without any bone or cartilage. Only a tiny bit of cartilage is present at the tip of the trunk which separates the nostrils. This extremely dexterous trunk enables an elephant to do many jobs like picking up small things from the ground towards the mouth, holding something, carrying water and a wide variety of functions. Each nostril is lined with a membrane. The septum creats a partition between two nasal cavities and it is composed of tiny muscle unit. There is a single finger at the tip of the trunk of an Indian Elephant.
The Tusks actually are modified incisors made up mostly of dentine. They never stop growing and classified as ivory. Generally male elephants bear tusks but the females either haven’t or have rudimentary tusks.Upto 1.8 m long tusks have been seen, but they have been worn down from work, foraging, digging and other works.

  • Hearing and Sight: 

Elephants have an excellent power of hearing, far superior to humans. Their large ears act as amplifiers. They can recognize long distance infrasonic calls which are used in times of stress, excitement, during separation and to relay sexual information. Elephants communicate with each other through several infrasonic which can travel over many kilometers. There is a ‘knuckle’ found at the back of the ear which is one of the softest parts of their bodies. Elephants tried to keep the blood vessels cool by constantly fanning with their ears, of the surface area of the ear. Though with a good hearing power the elephants have poor eye sights.Their eyes are small and can only see clearly up to about 30-40 feet (10m).


  • Difference between African and Indian Elephants:

The Indian elephants generally weigh 3-5 tons, whereas the African elephants weigh about 4-7 tons. An Indian elephant rarely exceeds 10ft 6in at the shoulder. African elephants stand 9.8 – 13.1 ft (3-4 m).One of the most distinctive features between African and Indian elephant is the size of ears Indian elephant’s ear is smaller than an African one.

4) Habitat and diet:
Elephants in nature need wide areas to live. But now a days many areas have been occupied by human settlements, which cause these animals to segregate in small isolated herds. They can be 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 every day. Elephants are herbivores and prefer feeding on grasses, barks, roots, and leaves. They also prefer rice, banana and sugarcane. Elephants generally eat 150-300 Kg of jungle fodder or 6 to 8% of their body weight as food each day, spending at about 20 hours a day eating . But only 45% of what they eat gives the nutrition. So, why they eat so much??? The answer is perhaps they are like children who loose control when let free in a candy store.

5) Behavior:
Elephants are chiefly frequent in areas covered with tall forests where the grounds are hilly or undulating and where bamboos grow in profusion. They are extremely adaptable and live in steamy humid jungles or in cool elevated forests. Elephants form herds. Individuals of various sizes and ages associate in herds which may vary from 5-60 or more animals. Herds are believed to be composed of single family. A family group consists of 2-10 females and their offsprings .Different herds generally do not mix, but stray females and young males (6-7 yrs of age) start to move out from one herd to another. When males become full grown (adult). They live as solitaries or two males of equal age may associate together. A solitary bull (male) only associate with a group when the urge to mate is on him or the herd happens to be in the same patch of the jungle. A male is called “Musth” when it gets physiologically and mentally uncomfortable and looking for a female to mate. At normal condition, the herd pursues a regular and ordered routine, drinking and feeding in accustomed places and rest in its usual retreat. Elephants generally sleep during the hot hours of the day, being intolerant of the sun, feed early in the morning and evening and come out after nightfall to feed in open forest patches.

6) Communication:
Elephants mainly communicate by infrasonic sounds. To gather a herd they use aloud trumpeting noise. Another noise is a hollow resonant sound which is alarming sound. They made the sound by tapping the trunk “backhanded” on a hard surface. Beating the ground violently with the trunk is the signal for anger or displeasure. Elephants use different types of growls, roars, grunts, trumpeting and snorts for warnings, greetings, distresses and signaling.

7) Life Cycle:
An Elephant may live upto 70 years. An Adult male joins the herd for mating season after dwelling with others for mating rights. Females reach sexual maturity at about the age of ten. After a gestation period of 22 months one baby elephant is born. At the time of birth other females encircles around the mother, presumably for protection. A newborn is about 200 pounds in weight and about 3 feet tall at the shoulder. The calf can stand about two hours after the birth and it begins to suckle. The first thing a baby recognizes about her mother is the smell of the mother’s dung which was dropped shortly after the baby is born. This associates her scent to her baby. Their life span, rate of growth are similar like a man. Calves have milk tusks of about 2 inches long, but shed them at the age of 2 inches long, but shed them at the age of 2 years. After that, males begin to grow permanent tusks. Indian elephants become full grown at the age of 20 and females can successfully bear young at the age of 16.

8) Conservation:
Elephants have been hunted through years for their ivory. The cross- section of an elephant tusk exhibits a unique pattern of crisscross lines that form diamond shaped areas. No other tusk exhibits this trait. It is soft enough to curve, fine grained yet durable enough to polish. Asian elephant is a target for poachers today as only the male bears the tusks. Killing of male elephants hampers the male, female ratio of a population and lowers the birth rate. Females as well as males are also killed for their hides and meat. Gradual destruction of forest areas is another reason for the depletion of number of elephants. Gradually decreasing numbers of elephants in different forests tells us about the necessity of conservation measures for this animal.

9) Relation ship with man:
In India, Elephants are considered as an integral part of our cultural history. Elephants eventually gained a higher status as they are believed to be the carrier of God “Indra” and they also bears a great similarity with “Lord Ganesha”. The historical references told us that elephants are used domestically and in wars wildly. Elephants have been domesticated in many areas. The mahout and the elephant both have become a part of the folklore and the folksongs. A mahout must have an intimate understanding of his particular elephant and develop a bond of trust and affection that allows him to control the animal with simple verbal commands and touch. Elephants are also a very interesting part of our tourism. In different forests elephant ride is very popular among the tourists.Elephants therefore, have a very special position in our culture and thoughts.

Photograph Courtsey:Santanu Ghosh, M.Krishnan, Kaushik Deauty, Hirak Nandi