• The Indian elephant (Elephas maximus indicus) is a subspecies of the Asian elephant found on the Asian mainland. Other subspecies of Asian elephants are found on the islands of Sri Lanka and Sumatra.

    Indian elephants are considered an endangered species. These elephants once roamed across most of Asia, but their range has been reduced to about five percent of its original area and is highly fragmented. The habitats of the Indian elephant are varied, but all are within the tropical region. They can live in grasslands and a variety of forests, including scrub forests, tropical evergreen forests, and deciduous forests. Elephants are herbivores and spend up to 19 hours a day grazing on a variety of plants.

    Indian elephants are a prime example of the conflicts that can occur between humans and animals when they compete for the same resources. These elephants live in one of the most densely populated parts of the world, where the need for agricultural land continues to grow with the human population. At the same time, elephants are nomadic and range over large areas, which are increasingly constricted by human activity. This creates conflict situations, where elephants and humans are forced into proximity of each other. Elephants, who are highly social and travel in herds, can quickly trample agricultural fields as they travel over them or stop to graze on the crops growing there. Farmers retaliate by poaching the animals or removing them to very small, isolated pockets of land, surrounded by human habitations. Every year, hundreds of elephants and people are killed in these conflicts. 

    Indian elephants are threatened by habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, as well as poaching. Approaches to conservation of this species focus on maintaining their remaining habitat, creating corridors to connect fragmented areas, and improving laws and protections. But mitigating human-elephant conflicts is also a key part of any effort to conserve these unique creatures.

    1. Reducing human-elephant conflict is a key part of conserving the Indian elephants. What are some ways this could be done?

      Answers will vary. Some methods include educating the people in these areas, reframing the elephant as an economic advantage, and patrolling fields to keep elephants away. One creative solution is in Sumatra, where the WWF funds “Elephant Flying Squads.” These are squads of tame elephants that can be brought in to scare off wild elephants if they get too close to farms.

    2. The Indian elephant is not the only species in conflict with humans. What are some other examples?

      A wide range of answers is possible here including the grey wolf in Europe, the leopard in South Africa, and cobras and tigers in parts of Asia. Most threatened and endangered species are in conflict in some way with humans.

    3. The photographer, Joel Sartore, said “It is folly to think that we can destroy one species and ecosystem after another and not affect humanity. When we save species, we’re actually saving ourselves.” What do you think he meant by this? How would the loss of the Indian elephant affect humans?

      Answers will vary, but the loss of any species has a radiating effect on other living things. For example, the Indian elephant helps to spread seeds of the plants they eat through their dung. They also create space for small animals and room for their food to grow when they knock down trees.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    competition Noun

    contest between organisms for resources, recognition, or group or social status.

    conservation Noun

    management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.

    Encyclopedic Entry: conservation
    crop Noun

    agricultural produce.

    Encyclopedic Entry: crop
    endangered species Noun

    organism threatened with extinction.

    Encyclopedic Entry: endangered species
    fragmentation Noun

    breaking up of large habitats into smaller, isolated chunks. Fragmentation is one of the main forms of habitat destruction.

    habitat Noun

    environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: habitat
    habitat loss Noun

    the reduction or destruction of an ecosystem, making it less able to support its native species.

    herbivore Noun

    organism that eats mainly plants and other producers.

    Encyclopedic Entry: herbivore
    human-wildlife conflict Noun

    interaction between an animal and a human that results in a negative outcome for either the animal, its habitat, or the human.

    poach Verb

    to hunt, trap, or fish illegally.

    resource Noun

    available supply of materials, goods, or services. Resources can be natural or human.

    subspecies Noun

    (subsp.) group of organisms within a single species, often distinguished by geographic isolation.