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Even though they are a little smaller than those found in Africa, Asian elephants are the largest creatures in Asia (Kumar, Mudappa and Raman 143). Their smaller, rounder ears, as opposed to the large ears found in African elephants, are the identifying feature of their physical appearance. Through heat radiation, the ears serve to keep the elephant cool. Although some areas, such as beside the ears, lack color due to differing habitats, their skin is grey and covered in hair. They range in length from 5.5 to 6.4 meters and weigh between three and six tons as adults. An infant weighs as much as 120 kg. Most of the male elephants are larger than females and they have tusks.The females lack tusks and instead, they have small projections called tushes which rarely protrude more than two inches from the lip line. The males also have a small projection called ‘finger’ at the end of their trunk. In height, they range from 2 to 3.5 meters at the shoulder and their legs are arranged in an almost vertical position under their body.
Asian elephant’s habitat is a wide range of locations which ranges from grasslands, semi and tropical evergreen forests, moist and dry deciduous forests to dry thorn forests (Clubb et al. 1649). The wide range of habitat enables means they occupy an area from the sea level to over 3000 meters above sea level. They are herbivores and they consume more than other animals in the same kingdom, at least 150 kg of a wide range of plantation which varies depending on the availability as a result of seasons. The elephants might travel for long distances to look for food in arid regions but where vegetation is plentiful, they opt for a sedentary life. They also require drinking water at least once a day and therefore they stay in places that are adjacent to water. They also bathe regularly with mud in order to free their skin of parasites as well as for the purpose of cooling down.
Asian elephants have an important role when it comes to maintaining the ecological balance in their habitats. They frequently limit vegetation growth as well as spreading the seeds of those plantations that they feed on. As a result, they have a positive role in influencing the growth of animal and plant species they share the habitat with. They also play a vital role in protecting a large number of other animal species in the same habitat because of the huge land areas they occupy. Due to their impact on the environment, they are occasionally referred to as “keystone species” as pointed out by Kumar et al. (151).
Subspecies of Elephas maximus recognized are three according to Saragusty et al. (255), and they are in three different locations. The subspecies are based on their different sizes as well as coloration. Elephas maximusindicus occupy the mainland Asia, Elephant maximus sumatranus are in Sumatra or Indonesia and they have a relatively larger ear as compared to the others in addition to their extra pair of ribs as asserted by Pradhan et al. (183). Elephas maximus maximus on the other hand are in Sri Lanka. E. m. maximus are different from the other species due to the fact that more than 90 percent of the males lack tusks. Two additional species are extinct as pointed out by Saragusty et al. (256). These are E. m. asurus as well as E. m. rubridens.
Human impact on Asian elephants is evident as asserted by Clubb et al (1649). He points out that the habitat for the elephants is diminishing day after day since many Asians are clearing lands for cultivation and other purposes (encroaching). According to Pradhan et al. (184), Asian elephants are an endangered species and have been completely eliminated from the western Asia. In substantial regions of Indian subcontinent as well as Southeast Asia, the elephants are being eliminated by increased human interference. In addition, the elephants are almost entirely extinct in China. However, cultural traditions in eleven Asian countries have played a big role in keeping elephants in captivity and in Thailand, more than 70 percent of the elephants are in domesticity. Pouching is also aimed at the male species since they are the ones with tusks, a scenario which leads to their deaths.
Impacts on Human
Elephant’s habitat in Asia is being replaced by agriculture day after day as pointed out by Kumar (158). More than 20 % of the human population in Asia lives near the present range of the elephants. Since elephants are messy eaters and consume a lot of food per day, they raid and destroy their crops frequently. This makes them dangerous especially in those countries where their captivity is not common. For instance, more than US$ 105 million is lost per year in Indonesia, Riau as a result of elephant attacks in oil palm plantations and timbre estates as pointed out by Saragusty et al. (261). In India, injuries associated with elephant results into more than 100 people losing their lives every year. However, people from western countries treat the animals with admiration and affection but those who share their land are always in fear. Elephants also serve as a source of income for the Asians as a result of attracting tourists as pointed out by Clubb et al. (1649).
Laws and Policies
The conflict between humans and elephants in Asia contribute to negative impacts on both sides. In order to standardize the relationship between the humans in Asia and the elephant population, laws and policies have been put in place in the attempt of preserving the mammals’ habitat as well as reduce the conflict. Laws such as the Asian Elephant Conservation Act of 1997 in the United States were aimed at funding the Asian countries. This has helped in the conservation of Asian elephants as well as reduced the conflict between humans and elephants as pointed out by Pradhan et al. (189); however it has not yet yielded good results as expected. Asian Elephant Conservation Fund policies were introduced between 1999 and 2000. They were aimed at providing education to the Asian population so that they could have a good understanding of their elephants. Different countries have also put in place policies and legislations that prohibit poaching of elephant tasks.
Research has indicated that many elephants are dying as a result of Endotheliotropic Herpes virus. The virus affects elephants between 1 and 8 years and it can be fatal since it takes less than 24 hours to cause visible signs and symptoms as pointed out by Saragusty et al. (265).The International Foundation Strategy, a U.S. based non-profit corporation is working to ensure that Asian elephants are conserved. Endotheliotropic virus is the leading cause of deaths amongst Asian elephants that are in captivity. Studies have been initiated in order to learn the causes as well as the cure of this virus. Although much has been learnt about the virus, the treatment remains a challenge and leaving the people to use traditional methods, for instance supportive care such as fluid therapy.
Clubb, Ros, et al. "Compromised survivorship in zoo elephants." Science 322.5908 (2008): 1649-1649.
Kumar, M. Ananda, Divya Mudappa, and TR Shankar Raman. "Asian elephant Elephas maximus habitat use and ranging in fragmented rainforest and plantations in the Anamalai Hills, India." Tropical Conservation Science 3.2 (2010): 143-158.
Pradhan, N. M. B., P. Wegge, and S. R. Moe. "How does a re‐colonizing population of Asian elephants affect the forest habitat?." Journal of Zoology 273.2 (2007): 183-191.
Saragusty, Joseph, et al. "Successful cryopreservation of Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) spermatozoa." Animal reproduction science 115.1 (2009): 255-266.
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