Today it is the world elephant day. A day where we think about the Elephant, the positive and the negative. But mostly about the danger that they are facing nowadays. There are two types of elephants, the African and the Asian elephant. As the name suggests, the African elephants live in Africa and the Asian elephants live in Asia. The continent that they are living on is not their only difference.
Difference between African – and Asian Elephant
The main difference between those two is their size, but also the shape of their ears and the end of their tusks
Asian elephants are the continent’s largest terrestrial mammals. They can reach 6.4m in length and 3m at the shoulder, and weigh as much as 5 tonnes. Their ears are proportionally smaller, which they keep in constant motion in order to cool themselves. And they also have a single ‘finger’ on the upper lip of their trunks. A significant number of male Asian elephants are tuskless.
When habitat conditions are favourable, female elephants may give birth to a calf every 2.5-4 years. Each calf weighs between 50-150kg. After several months, the calf begins to eat grass and foliage. However, it stays under the supervision of its mother for several years, starting to make its first independent moves when it is around 4 years old. Elephants need to eat an average of 150 kg per day to survive. They can spend more than two-thirds of each day feeding on grasses. But they also devour large amounts of bark, roots, leaves and stems.
There are three subspecies of Asian elephant – the Indian, Sumatran and Sri Lankan. The Indian has the widest range and accounts for the majority of the remaining elephants on the continent. The Sri Lankan is physically the largest of the subspecies, and also the darkest in colour. The Sumatran is the smallest. However, some studies suggest that Borneo pygmy elephants could be a separate subspecies.
African elephants are the world’s largest land animals. The biggest can be up to 7.5m long, 3.3m high at the shoulder, and 6 tonnes in weight. The trunk is an extension of the upper lip and nose and is used for communication and handling objects, including food. African elephants have two opposing extensions at the end of their trunks. Tusks grow throughout an elephant’s lifetime, both males and females can grow tusks and are used in fights and for marking, feeding, and digging. The other notable feature of African elephants is their very large ears, which allow them to radiate excess heat. Usually, a single calf is born after a gestation period of 22 months. Young elephants wean after 6 to 18 months, although they may continue nursing for over 6 years. African elephants mainly eat leaves and branches of bushes and trees, but also eat grasses, fruit, and bark.
There are two subspecies – the larger savannah elephant, which roams grassy plains and woodlands, and the smaller forest elephant, which lives in the equatorial forests of central and western Africa. Savannah elephants are larger than forest elephants, and their tusks curve outwards. In addition to being smaller, forest elephants are darker and their tusks are straighter and downward pointing.
Why they are important for the ecosystem
The elephant is really important to maintain the biodiversity in an ecosystem, on the savannah the elephant makes sure it keeps open. Without them, the savannah would turn in to a forest. It, of course, eats the grass which helps to keep it short. While in the forest, they make gaps where new trees can germinate. And therefore, the biodiversity can increase.
Buth their digesting system is probably the most important one. The seeds that the elephants eat and pass the system would not germinate without this process. So that means that the new plants will not grow before they have been eaten by an elephant. Because the digestion system of an elephant is really slow, the place where they eat the seeds and they place where they poop the seeds out again can be miles apart from each other. This way the tree or plant can spread out into the area.
The threats to the elephants
With an estimated 415,000 African elephants left on the continent, the species is regarded as vulnerable. Certain populations are being poached towards extinction. Around 30,000 African elephants are poached every year, with illegal trade of elephant ivory at its highest level for 20 years. Asian elephant numbers have dropped by at least 50% over the last three generations, and they’re still in decline today. With only 40,000-50,000 left in the wild, the species is classified as endangered. Buth not only wildlife crime is a threat for them. Their habitat is decreasing as well. Because we, human, cut down the forest they are living in and taking big parts of the savannah to grow our crops.
And it is important to conserve both African and Asian elephants since they play such a vital role in their ecosystems. And you can help. To help conserve the elephants you can do several things:
- Do not buy souvenirs form Ivory. If you buy an ivory object there is an elephant is killed.
- buy and use sustainable palm oil. By using certified palm oil retailers, traders and manufacturers can help limit the conversion of Asian elephant habitat into oil palm plantations. Our voice can demand to use nothing else than certified palm oil.
- Donate to organisations who help conserving Elephants. For example WWF.