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The status of Asian elephants

Elephas maximus

More than 100,000 Asian elephants may have existed at the beginning of the 20th century, roaming from the Persian Gulf to India and China. But their numbers have plummeted by at least 50% in the past three generations. A large portion of the world’s human population now lives in or near Asian elephant habitat, which has dwindled to just 15% of its historic range. Habitat loss and fragmentation and pressures from poaching and the live elephant trade pose an ever-growing threat to these nomads.

feature illus asian elephant num winter2018

Asian elephant

Elephas maximus

HABITATS

  • Grassland
  • Forest
  • Scrubland

KEY THREATS

  • Habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation
  • Human-elephant conflict
  • Poaching
  • Trafficking of live animals

Elephants are in demand, particularly for work within the forestry and tourism industries. In Myanmar, for instance, elephants are often seized from the wild and smuggled across the border into Thailand and other countries.

Across Asia, the pace of human development has devastated elephant populations at an alarming rate.

Asian elephants are even more endangered than their African cousins. That’s because the biggest threat to their survival isn’t poaching but habitat loss. As urbanization, industrial development, and agricultural expansion increase in countries like India and Indonesia, Asian elephants’ habitats are shrinking rapidly, leading to increasingly isolated populations and a rising number of deadly human-elephant conflicts.

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IUCN STATUS

LEAST CONCERN
NEAR THREATENED
VULNERABLE
 
ENDANGERED
CRITICALLY ENDANGERED
EXTINCT IN THE WILD

IUCN RANGE MAP

 
EXISTING RANGE

DISPERSAL

Less than 50,000 live in the wild. More than 50% are in India, where their range is largest. Populations live in just a few pockets of land in Sri Lanka. In Sumatra, elephants have lost 70% of their native habitat.

Asian elephants dipankar ghose

Asian elephants live in tight-knit groups of about six or seven related females that work together to raise their young. Males generally live solitary lives or in small bachelor groups.

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World Wildlife magazine provides an inspiring, in-depth look at the connections between animals, people and our planet. Published quarterly by WWF, the magazine helps make you a part of our efforts to solve some of the most pressing issues facing the natural world.

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