The Asian elephant is the largest land mammal on the Asian continent. They inhabit dry to wet forest and grassland habitats in 13 range countries spanning South and Southeast Asia. While they have preferred forage plants, Asian elephants have adapted to surviving on resources that vary based on the area.
Asian elephants are extremely sociable, forming groups of six to seven related females that are led by the oldest female, the matriarch. Like African elephants, these groups occasionally join others to form larger herds, although these associations are relatively short-lived. In Asia, elephant herd sizes are significantly smaller than those of savannah elephants in Africa.
More than two-thirds of an elephant's day may be spent feeding on grasses, but it also eats large amounts of tree bark, roots, leaves, and small stems. Cultivated crops such as bananas, rice, and sugarcane are favorite foods. Elephants are always close to a source of fresh water because they need to drink at least once a day.
In Asia, humans have had close associations with elephants over many centuries, and elephants have become important cultural icons. According to Hindu mythology, the gods (deva) and the demons (asura) churned the oceans in a search for the elixir of life so that they would become immortal. As they did so, nine jewels surfaced, one of which was the elephant. In Hinduism, the powerful deity honored before all sacred rituals is the elephant-headed Lord Ganesha, who is also called the Remover of Obstacles.