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Animal Detail ViewՄանրամասն` նրանց մասին

28.02.2012

Indian elephant (Elephas maximus indicus)


Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Subphylum: Vertebrata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Proboscidea

Family: Elephantidae

Genus: Elephas

Species: Elephas maximus

Subspecies: Elephas maximus indicus

 

Description

The Indian Elephant (Elephas maximus indicus) is one of three recognized subspecies of the Asian elephant, and native to mainland Asia.

Head and body length is 550 to 640 cm and shoulder height is 250 to 300 cm. The skin is thick and dry, and the few hairs are stiff. Skin color varies from grey to brown. In contrast to African elephants, Asian elephants have ears that are much smaller, the back is not as sloping, the head rather than the shoulders is the highest part of the body, the trunk has a single finger-like projection rather than two, and the hind foot has 4 nails rather than 3. The elephant's teeth are unique. They have a limited number of very large teeth that move forward in the mouth as the animal ages; as the front teeth are worn away with use they are replaced from behind. If an elephant lives long enough to have used up all of its teeth it then starves to death. In males, a pair of incisors is elongated (growing 17 cm per year throughout the animal's life) into tusks.

Unlike African Elephant females, Asian females do not bear tusks.  Elephants are endowed with versatile trunks, which have over 100,000 muscles units that make it extremely dexterous. This incredible dexterity enables an elephant to pick up very small items and use their trunks for a wide variety of functions. The trunk has no bones or cartilage except for a tiny bit of cartilage at the tip of the trunk which separates the nostrils; each nostril is lined with a membrane. There is a single finger at the tip of the Asian Elephant’s trunk whereas the African Elephant has two fingers. Elephants do not use their trunks like a straw to drink through, but rather they suck water into the trunk and squirt it into their mouths. Females are usually smaller than males and can be easily distinguished by the two mammary glands located on the chest.

Habitat and Range

Indian elephants are native to mainland Asia: India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Malay Peninsula, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and China. They inhabit grasslands, dry deciduous, moist deciduous, evergreen and semi-evergreen forests.

Wild elephant populations need vast areas over which to range. However, migratory routes, many which have been cut off by human settlements, are resulting in small and isolated herds. Asian elephants are randomly nomadic in accordance with the season. Historically, they travel on a set course over longer periods that may take them as much as ten years to complete before arriving back at any one point. However, these travel patterns have been greatly reduced as fast-growing human populations now confine most elephants to National Parks because of habitat destruction and settlement encroachment.

They are found in a wide variety of forest types, but they tend to avoid large forests of closed canopies. Their distribution is limited by the need for water (about 100 liters) every day.

Behavior

Asian elephants are quite social. Cows form stable herds of about 20 or more of their female relatives. These matriarchal groups are led by the oldest female, who coordinates the herd's movements in search of food and water. Herds may temporarily break up into smaller subgroups, which maintain contact through low frequency long-distance vocalizations. Males are sometimes found with these herds, especially when a female is in estrus. Generally only the dominant male mates with the females. Males may travel alone or in temporary male groups. This species does not appear to be territorial. In the past these animals migrated seasonally, but human activities such as agriculture have now made this virtually impossible. Like other large mammals, elephants are more tolerant of cold than of excessive heat. They spend the hottest part of the day in the shade, and dissipate heat through their ears, which they flap at different speeds according to how hot they are. In addition, at full charge, an elephant can run over 48 km/hr.

Elephants communicate by a loud trumpeting noise that is used to gather a herd. Another noise is a hollow resonant sound made by tapping the trunk "backhanded" on a hard surface, the tip of which is turned upward, while snorting; this signals alarm. Beating the ground violently with the trunk is signaling anger or displeasure. Elephants have a large repertoire of growls, roars, grunts, trumpeting, and snort for warnings, greetings, distress, and signaling.

Diet

Elephants eat a wide variety of species of vegetation. They prefer grasses, but they also consume bark, roots, leaves, and stems of trees, vines, and shrubs. Most of an adult's activities involve moving toward and eating food. They eat in the morning, evening, and night but rest during the hottest part of the day. An average day's intake is 150 kg of vegetation, of which only about 44% is actually digested (with the aid of symbiotic gut bacteria). Elephants eat long grasses by plucking a "handful" with their trunk and putting the bundle in their mouth. To eat short grasses, they kick up a pile of dirt with their feet and sweep the grass into their mouth, again with the end of their trunk. Shrubs are eaten by breaking off twigs with the trunk and inserting them into the mouth. To eat the bark off larger branches, they hold the branch with their trunk and rotate it while scraping off the bark with their teeth - similar to the way people eat corn on the cob. Elephants also drink at least once a day (140 liters of water may be consumed in just one day) and so are never very far from a water supply.

Breeding

Elephants are slow and difficult to breed with an average of only 4 offspring during a lifetime of 60 years.  

An adult male will join the herd for mating season after dueling with others for mating rights. These mating conflicts can sometimes lead to death from seriously inflicted wounds. The mating bull will drive all other herd males away and will remain with the cow (female elephant) for about three weeks. The male genetalia are housed internally.

Cows are in estrus only 2 to 4 days during their cycle that lasts about 4 months and under ideal habitat conditions, females reach sexual maturity at about the age of 10. If conditions are difficult sexual maturity may be delayed several years. 

The gestation period is 22 months and one or sometimes two calves are born. When the birth is taking place, the other herd cows will form a circle around the mother, presumably for protection. If the baby is born in an area where there are large carnivores, the mother will blow dust over the newborn in order to dry it and keep the scent of birth from being carried in the air. A newborn calf weighs 200 pounds and stands about three feet tall at the shoulder. One of the first things a calf smells is the dung of the mother that is dropped shortly after the calf born; this associates her scent to her baby. The calf can stand two hours after birth and it will begin to suckle. The young are weaned at about 2 years old. Their rate of growth, the age at which they reach puberty, their life span, and their gerontic (last phase of life) progression is similar to that of man. Elephants live to be about 70 years old.

Calves have milk tusks that are 2 inches long and are shed by the time they are 2 years old. Males will then being to grow permanent tusks.

Interestingly, it is often asked if African and Asian elephants can interbreed. Because the species live in separate areas of the world this would not naturally happen. However, in captivity it is possible and did happen at the Chester Zoo in England in 1979. The resulting offspring lived only 10 days. This has been the only recorded case of the two species breeding. It is unlikely that any offspring would survive because of the physiological differences between them.

As a result of the isolation of wild elephant populations, the gene pool has become depleted with the result being inbreeding. Breeding success in captivity is poor; however, there have been recent advances in the use of artificial insemination resulting in successful elephant births. Unfortunately the cost is very high and unaffordable to most elephant owners.

History 

In India, elephants have been an integral part of cultural history, dating as far back as the Vedic Period (1500B.C. to 600B.C.) References are made in these early times to their domesticity and tameness. Elephants eventually gained a higher status than the horse, which was an extremely important animal in Indian culture. The elephant became the carrier (vahana) of Indra, the King of the Gods. They were also prominent in the stories of Buddha with elephant festivals and processions being commonplace. By 231B.C. the elephant had become the emblem of Buddhism and they appeared as prominent features in artistic carvings. Elephant possession and use as a royal mount was firmly established and along with this they became an asset of war.

War elephants in India were used from the 1st millennium B.C. to the early 19th century. A staggering number of elephants have died fighting wars during India’s history. It was not until the introduction of muskets in mid-1700, that elephants were no longer needed to fight in the front lines of battle. However, their importance for use was not diminished because they could still transport soldiers, ammunition and supplies over extremely rough terrain where men could not go alone.

War elephants in India were used from the 1st millennium B.C. to the early 19th century. A staggering number of elephants have died fighting wars during India’s history. It was not until the introduction of muskets in mid-1700, that elephants were no longer needed to fight in the front lines of battle. However, their importance for use was not diminished because they could still transport soldiers, ammunition and supplies over extremely rough terrain where men could not go alone.

All elephants in private ownership in India were put into active military service to defend their borders against the Japanese who had invaded Burma and Southeast Asia during WWII. It was not until the introduction of the 4-wheel drive vehicle that the role of the elephant in India’s commissariat ended.

Today in India elephants are still used as status symbols in some temples, in circuses, and by the forest and tourism department of the government. It stands as a symbol of eternal India.

Conservation Status

Asian Elephants are on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and are considered endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Asian Elephants have a long history of being hunted by people, originally for food, later for domestic stock and ivory. Poaching for ivory continues to devastate wild populations. They also suffer due to habitat loss caused by agriculture and deforestation. Centuries ago they disappeared from southwestern Asia and most of China. Currently there are only an estimated 28,000 to 42,000 wild Asian Elephants remaining. Asian Elephants are kept as domestic animals and can be successfully bred in captivity to a limited extent.

Threats

When a potential predator such as a lion or tiger threatens a calf, the adults form a defensive circle with the calf in the middle. Adult elephants are probably not susceptible to predation by any species other than humans.

Loss of significant extents of elephant range and suitable habitat continues; their free movement is impeded by reservoirs, hydroelectric projects and associated canals, irrigation dams, numerous pockets of cultivation and plantations, highways, railway lines, mining and industrial development.

Elephant conservation in northern West Bengal has been set back due to high-levels of human–elephant conflict and elephant mortality owing to railway accidents.  Every day, 20 trains run on this track at high speeds. Elephants that pass through from one forest patch to another dash against the trains and die.

In Bangladesh, forested areas that served as prime elephant habitat have undergone drastic reduction, which had a severe impact on the wild elephant population. Habitat loss and fragmentation is attributed to the increasing human population and its need for fuel wood and timber. Illegal timber extraction plays a significant role in deforestation and habitat degradation. As a result of the shrinking habitat, elephants have become more and more prone to coming into direct conflict with humans.

 

Short Facts

·      Asian Elephants live for about 70 years

 

·      Elephants are the largest mammals in the world that live on land.

 

·      An elephant can smell water 3 miles away.

 

·      An elephant could carry up to 2 gallons of water in its trunk.

 

·      Elephants have the largest brains in the animal kingdom.

 

·      An elephant's trunk contains more than 50,000 muscles.

 

·      Elephants spend about 16 hours a day eating



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