About Asian Elephant

Key Facts

  • Common Name

    Indian elephant

  • Scientific Name

    Elephas maximus

  • Geographic habitat

    Widely distributed across India

  • Height


  • Length

    5.5-6.40m (tip of trunk to tip of tail)

  • Weight

    Male: 3500 - 6000kg; Female: 2500 - 4000kg

  • Population

    Around 26,000

  • Did you know?

    Elephants spend about 16 hours a day eating. They require approximately 150-200 kgs of food and up to 200 litres of water each day.

  • Status

    Endangered (IUCN)


Elephants are the largest terrestrial mammals. An Asian elephant bull can attain a height of 11 feet and a weight of over six tonnes. Record tusks have measured over 8ft (240cm) in length, but on average, they are between 3 and 6ft (91 to 182cm) long. Females and some males (called makhnas) do not have tusks but have small tusk-like teeth called tushes. The ears of the Asian elephant are much smaller than its African cousins, and the trunk tip has one finger as opposed to two in the case of African elephants. Purely vegetarian, an adult elephant can eat 150-200kg of fodder and drink up to 200 litres of water daily. 

Females live in a matriarchal society made up of related individuals. These large extended families are called clans, consisting of smaller sub-units called kin groups and family units. Clans sometimes assemble in feeding grounds or around waterholes to form large herds. Adult bulls are mainly solitary but form temporary associations with other males and join female groups primarily for mating. During a period known as 'musth', males exhibit a period of heightened sexual activity annually. The testosterone levels can be 20 times their normal range during this period. During musth, males secrete a fluid that has a distinct odour from a gland in the temporal area between the eyes and ears. Older males also dribble urine during musth which has a powerful pungent odour. These odours are primarily used to signal other elephants about the male's status. During musth, besides exhibiting high sexual drive, males show increased aggression and wander extensively in search of oestrous females.

Females become sexually mature at 15, depending on their nutrition intake. Males between the ages of 9 and 13 disperse from the matriarchal group and establish their independent home range. Although males are also sexually mature at this age, they cannot compete for mates until much older.

A single calf is born after a gestation of 18 to 22 months and is nursed for two to four years. Although a calf is naturally attached to its mother, other females, especially sub-adult females in the group, care for the calf, too – a phenomenon referred to as allomothering. Males and females can live up to 60-70 years in the wild.

Habitat and distribution

In India, the Asian elephant was once widely distributed throughout the country, including in states like Punjab and Gujarat. Currently, they are found in four fragmented populations in the south, north, central and northeast India. Habitat generalists' habitat ranges from wet tropical evergreen forests to semi-arid thorn and scrub forests. However, the highest densities of the elephant population are found in tropical deciduous forests. Elephants are 'mega-herbivores' that require vast tracts of forests and grasslands rich in food and water to survive.

Indians have long been associated with captive elephants that go back 4,000-5,000 years and have developed strong cultural and religious links with these mega-herbivores. This makes elephants excellent flagship species in generating public support for conservation. Due to their diverse habitats and large home ranges, elephants help protect the biodiversity within their scope. Even with their large dietary requirements, they significantly impact the trees and other vegetation, resulting in their habitat modifications. Thus, their conservation could help maintain large forest tracts' biological diversity and ecological integrity.
Donate to WWF

Your support will help us build a future where humans live in harmony with nature.