Photo of the Month: Asian elephant

By Megan Runquist Holmstedt

Asian elephant; PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Pham

Asian elephant; PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Pham

Status: This species is listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) primarily due to poaching and habitat loss. The wild Asian elephant population has experienced a decline of at least 50 percent over the last 60-75 years; only about 35,000 remain today, and they occupy a much reduced range. As their forest habitat is destroyed, these creatures are often forced into conflict with farmers as crops and villages overlap with elephant territories and migration routes.

Habitat: The Asian elephant is found in fragmented areas of hilly or mountainous forests and grasslands in India, Southeast Asia, and the islands of Sri Lanka, Borneo, and Sumatra (Indonesia). At one point in history, these animals ranged from western Asia (along the Iranian coast) as far eastwards as the Yangtze-Kiang river in China.

Diet: Elephants are herbivores. Asian elephants in particular like to graze, eating more grass and shrubs than their African cousins. An adult Asian elephant may eat over 300 pounds of vegetation (including fruits, vegetables, and leafy branches) and drink up to 40 gallons of water per day.

The L.A. Zoo is home to three Asian elephants: male Billy (31 years old, pictured) and females Tina and Jewel (both 48-50 years old). Billy has lived at the Zoo since 1989; his elderly companions, Tina and Jewel, have been together for more than 30 years and came to the Zoo when the Elephants of Asia habitat opened in December 2010. The exhibit provides them with over three-and-a-half acres of varied landscape, multiple water features including a waterfall and deep-water pool, and a state-of-the-art barn with heated, cushioned floors.

You can see the elephants up close during elephant care demonstrations, which are held daily (except for Tuesdays and Thursdays) at the Wasserman Family Thai Pavilion. To learn more about what the Zoo is doing to help wild elephants, read about our conservation projects here.