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Threatened Southeast Asian Animal – Elephas Maximus

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Threatened Southeast Asian animal – Elephas maximus  

Asian elephants, scientifically known as Elephas maximus, once roamed through West Asia right along the Iranian coast and entered the Indian subcontinent, moving easterly into South-east Asia all the way to Java, Sumatra, Borneo and China. Over 9 million km² was covered in this former range (Sukumar 2003). Asian elephants are currently wiped out in West Asia, Java, and a large portion in China. Now, the Asian elephant is defined to isolated fragments in 13 countries, which includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, China, Vietnam, Laos People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia and Indonesia.

According to the ‘International Union for the Conservation of Nature,’ Elephas maximus falls under the ‘endangered’ criteria of the red list. Currently, it was estimated that the global population size of the Asian elephant was 41,410–52,345 animals (Sukumar, 2003). The overall trend of the population of elephants in Asia is decreasing.

The most prominent dangers Asian elephants face presently are the loss of habitat, fragmentation and degradation (Leimgruber et al., 2003), which are steered by an increasing human population because elephants and people are now coming into contact more often thereby increasing the possibility of human-wildlife clashes.  Elephants are known to raid farmer’s fields, eat and trample their crops, occasionally kill people and destroy property so as a result many elephants are killed by farmers to protect their fields and families. In a few nations, the legislature provides compensation to crop damage and deaths created by elephants, yet there is still a solid political weight on wildlife authorities to eradicate elephants close to urbanized areas instead of attempting to avoid clashes.

Asian elephants exist in the regions of densely populated areas, growing at a rate of between 1–3% per year. Since elephants need much bigger territories unlike most other terrestrial mammals in Asia, they one of the most primary species to endure the outcomes of habitat fragmentation and destruction. Also due to their gigantic size and extensive requirement of food sources, elephants cannot live in peace with people in regions where farming is the predominant type of area use.

Habitat loss is also a major factor that causes the declination of the elephant population. Large areas of the elephant habitat have been transformed to agricultural use as the human population increases. The main issue in this case is not the loss of habitat per se but fragmentation from large development projects, such as dams, roads, and mines. Fragmentation together with agricultural development causes the loss of habitat. Wild elephant populations are now isolated in habitat patches as ancient migratory routes are been terminated by human settlements making the subpopulation too small to be viable and restricts gene flow. Even the protected species are vulnerable to diseases, inbreeding and too small to be viable. In Sri Lanka, the burning of grassland annually by cattle herders increases grass cover efficiently while reducing browser will reduce the habitat quality for elephants (Vancuylenberg, 1977). Original landscape that are recently being cleared for large oil-palm plantations, have resulted in extreme habitat fragmentation and degradation, thereby posing a serious threat to endangered elephants.  

Poaching for ivory of the Asian elephants pose serious threats to the survival of these elephants. It has been contended that poaching is generally an insignificant risk to Asian elephant in light of the fact that only males have tusks and there are only a few males present (Dawson and Blackburn, 1991). However, while elephants are poached primarily for ivory, it is also hunted   for other products such as meat and skin and therefore poaching is recognized as a risk to the long haul survival of some Asian elephant populations. It is estimated that 30 elephants were killed in Thailand’s National Park due to poaching form 1973 to 1979. This provides evidence that poaching takes place inside and outside protected areas. Additionally ivory poaching have dramatically lead to the population being skewed towards female, for example in Periyar Tiger Reserve in southern India, the sex ratio of adult male to female altered from 1:6 to 1:122 during a 20-year period from 1969 to 1989 (Chandran, 1990).  The elephant population was severely affected due to the selective elimination of tusked males as the sex ratios clearly shows that this yield more females than males so genetic variation is diminished and fertility also declined (Sukumar, 2003).

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