Photo of the Month: Asian elephant

By Megan Runquist Holmstedt

Asian elephant Shaunzi; PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Pham

Status: This species (Elephas maximus) 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 east 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 grasses, leafy branches, fruits, and vegetables) and drink up to 40 gallons of water daily.

The L.A. Zoo is home to four Asian elephants: male Billy (32 years old), who has lived at the Zoo since 1989; females Tina and Jewel (both in their early 50s), who have been together for more than 30 years and came to the Zoo when Elephants of Asia opened in 2010; and new arrival Shaunzi (46 years old; pictured), who arrived from the Fresno Chaffee Zoo at the end of June of this year. As she acclimates to her new environment, Shaunzi will be gradually integrated into the herd and introduced to the rest of the state-of-the-art exhibit – more than three and a half acres of varied landscape, multiple water features including a waterfall and deep-water pool, and a high-tech barn with heated, cushioned floors.

The L.A. Zoo participates in wild elephant conservation projects in Cambodia and Sri Lanka, helping to mitigate human-elephant conflict. Here in Los Angeles, the Zoo observes World Elephant Day, an international celebration of elephants bringing attention to the urgent threat of their extinction; festivities are planned for the weekend of August 12. To learn more about the event, visit www.lazoo.org/worldelephantday.