An Eco-sustainable World
MammalsSpecies Animal

Elephas maximus

Elephas maximus

The Asian elephant (Elephas maximus Linnaeus, 1758) is a mammal belonging to the Elephantidae family.

Systematic –
Eukaryota domain,
Kingdom Animalia,
Subkingdom Eumetazoa,
Bilateria branch,
Superphylum Deuterostomia,
Phylum Chordata,
Subphylum Vertebrata,
Infraphylum Gnathostomata,
Superclass Tetrapoda,
Mammalia class,
Subclass Theria,
Infraclass Eutheria,
Superorder Afrotheria,
Order Proboscidea,
Elephantidae family,
Subfamily Elephantinae,
Genus Elephas,
E. maximus species.
Within this species the following subspecies are recognised:
Elephas maximus subsp. indicus Cuvier, 1798;
Elephas maximus subsp. maximus;
Elephas maximus subsp. sumatranus Temminck, 1847.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Elephas maximus is a large mammal present in a range that includes: India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia (Sumatra) and Malaysia. The Indian elephant population is mainly concentrated in India, where about 60% of the remaining Asian elephants are estimated to live. Other important populations are found in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand.
Its habitat is that of humid and mountainous forests, but also savannas and semi-arid regions not covered by vegetation.

Description –
Elephas maximus is a mammal very similar to the African elephant, but with some rather marked differences. It is the second largest land animal. It presents a sexual dimorphism with males being on average 5.5-6.4 meters long, having a shoulder height of 2.7-3 meters, and weighing 3900 – 4700 kg, while females are slightly smaller.
In addition to the smaller size of the males (the females of the two species instead have a similar size, due to the more marked dimorphism in the African species), the differences in the shape of the skull are evident, which in this species has two prominences and an internal indentation .
The ears are also smaller in proportion to the head. The profile of the back of this species is convex and descends from the withers to the rump, unlike that of the African elephant, which is mounted and has the rump higher than the withers. Furthermore, it has smaller fangs, which are often absent or barely visible in females.
Furthermore, this animal usually has four hooves on its hind foot, compared to three in the African species. The Indian elephant has a trunk with relatively smooth skin and a single digit-like appendage at the end on the upper edge, while that of the African elephant ends with two appendages, less developed than the single one of the Asian one, and also has a skin much more wrinkled.
The jaw of the Asian elephant also has a sort of pendulous and pointed lip at the end, which is missing in the two African species.

Biology –
Elephas maximus is a polygynous species; that is, they compete with each other to mate with females. Not all adult males, however, manage to reproduce, but only the strongest and healthiest ones.
Females are in oestrus every 14/16 weeks for a duration of approximately 3/7 days, during which they use acoustic, visual and chemical signals to indicate to males that they are ready for mating.
A study conducted in 2003 by the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, at the University of Oregon, in the United States, described the behavior of the Asian elephant during the “musth”, or the period in which males become aggressive towards others males and display increased sexual behaviors. At this time of the year (which varies from individual to individual) the skin gland located on the temples enlarges. The testicles grow noticeably in size and the individual exudes a strong odor. To fight with each other they use their fangs and, during battles, they can even get injured or die.
Young males who have just reached sexual maturity usually cannot reproduce yet because their “musth” is too weak and they are therefore unable to defeat older males. With age, however, the “musth” increases in intensity and, around the age of 20, it begins to be ready for mating.

Ecological Role –
Elephas maximus is an animal with a matriarchal social organization; while females and offspring live together, males join together in smaller groups, or live alone. The so-called clans, within which strong social bonds are formed, are made up of a minimum of 5 to a maximum of 20 females related to each other and their offspring.
The size of the groups depends on the season, habitat and other environmental conditions. Males leave the group after reaching sexual maturity.
Asian elephants communicate through a variety of sounds and vocalizations, including roars, screams, whispers and grunts, as well as through physical contact, such as trunk caressing.
These animals are nomadic and move frequently. Their maximum speed is approximately 32 km/h. Furthermore, Asian elephants can immerse themselves completely in water, leaving only their trunk out.
They are animals with diurnal habits, but if they need a long time to find food, they can also be active at night.
These animals have a particular diet; they spend 16 to 18 hours a day feeding and searching for water.
They are herbivores that eat many types of plants. Their diet is composed mostly of legumes, grasses, rushes and palms. However, depending on the availability of the environment, they can also feed on mallows and birches, or bamboo. Where available, they also feed on sugar cane.
Also helping them in finding food is the trunk, which, thanks to its flexibility and strength, allows the elephant to grab and tear branches, trunks and roots.
Unfortunately, according to recent studies, the number of Indian elephants is decreasing at an alarming rate and even faster than that of African elephants.
The main causes of this decline are the rapid fragmentation of habitats, but also the conflict with humans, who still carry out cruel acts of poaching to obtain ivory for tusks. Indian elephants have therefore been included in category 1 of the Appendix of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora of CITES since 1973 and, furthermore, they are present in the list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN ) since 1986.
Habitat loss has been caused primarily by the conversion of forests to agricultural land and the construction of infrastructure such as roads and dams. The resulting human-elephant conflict is becoming increasingly widespread also due to climate change. There are also the dire consequences of poaching for ivory, an activity that poses a significant threat to the survival of Asian elephants and even African elephants.
In tourist environments, the habit of keeping Asian elephants in captivity, often training them to approach humans, is quite widespread. This species is also exploited in circuses and shows, not only in Asia, but also in the West.
Despite the treatment that is often reserved for the species in the Indian Subcontinent, this elephant is venerated as a sacred animal both by people of the Buddhist faith and by Hindus, who dedicate temples and statues to it and consider it a symbol of peace and power.

Guido Bissanti

– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
– Gordon Corbet, Denys Ovenden, 2012. Guide to the mammals of Europe. Franco Muzzio Publisher.
– John Woodward, Kim Dennis-Bryan, 2018. The great encyclopedia of animals. Gribaudo Publisher.

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