Sri Lankan Elephant


  • Status
  • Population
  • Scientific Name
    Elephas maximus maximus
  • Height
    8-10 feet at shoulder
  • Weight
    4,400 and 12,000 pounds
  • Habitats
    Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests

The Sri Lankan subspecies is the largest and also the darkest of the Asian elephants, with patches of depigmentation—areas with no skin color—on its ears, face, trunk and belly. Once found throughout the tear-shaped island at the bottom of India’s southern tip, these elephants are now being pushed into smaller areas as development activities clear forests and disrupt their ancient migratory routes.

The herd size in Sri Lanka ranges from 12-20 individuals or more. It is led by the oldest female, or matriarch. In Sri Lanka, herds have been reported to contain nursing units, consisting of lactating females and their young, and juvenile care units, containing females with juveniles. The Sri Lankan elephant population has fallen almost 65% since the turn of the 19th century. Today, the Sri Lanka elephant is protected under the Sri Lankan law and killing one carries the death penalty.

Two years after China bans elephant ivory trade, demand for elephant ivory is down

Two years ago this month, China took the monumental step of banning elephant ivory trade within the country. Dec. 31, 2017 was the last day it was legal to buy or sell ivory there.

African elephant.

Why They Matter

  • Elephants hold symbolic, cultural and economic importance in Sri Lanka. They attract tourists who visit national parks to observe elephants in the wild. They support logging operations by dragging felled logs and have special significance in religious events.


  • Population 2,500–4,000
  • Extinction Risk Endangered
    1. EX

      No reasonable doubt that the last individual has died

    2. EW
      Extinct in the Wild

      Known only to survive in cultivation, in captivity or as a naturalised population

    3. CR
      Critically Endangered

      Facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the Wild

    4. EN

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    5. VU

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    6. NT
      Near Threatened

      Likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future

    7. LC
      Least Concern

      Does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, or Near Threatened

Habitat Loss

The primary threat to Sri Lankan elephants is the loss of forests. The large blocks of forests they require are increasingly fragmented by clearing for human settlements and expanding agriculture in Sri Lanka.

Conflict with humans

Indian elephant

As a result of forest clearing, human-elephant conflicts have also increased and led to the destruction of property and death of both humans and elephants. The problem is compounded by the elephant's preference for crops such as sugar cane, bananas and other fruits frequently grown in the region. In 1997, about 126 wild elephants were lost as a result of human-elephant conflict—a rate of about 2.4 elephants per week. Current recorded levels of mortality would indicate that about 6% of the animals in the wild are dying annually.

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