This Sri Lankan subspecies ( elephas maximus maximus) is confined to the island of Sri Lanka (65,605 square kilometers/ 25,332 square miles) off the southern coast of India. Although there is no accurate census available, it is estimated that about 4500-5000 elephants are still found in the wild, and a further 150 odd in captivity. It occupies a variety of habitats from open grasslands to forested regions, including open savannas, wet areas of marshes and lake shores.The IUCN Red List categorizes the Asian elephant as an Endangered Species.
At the turn of the century more than 10,000 elephants were found distributed all over the island. These numbers were rapidly depleted, firstly due to big game hunting, and subsequently because of rapid development and deforestation, which in turn increased the conflict between man and elephant. The remaining few thousands are confined to the national parks, while a large proportion are strewn around in the north-eastern and eastern areas, outside the protected areas. It is estimated that up to some 60% of the wild population live outside the National wild life parks .
The Sri Lankan elephant is somewhat different to the African elephant where firstly it has much smaller ears. The profile of it’s back, is convex (males) or straight and level (females), as the case may be,unlike that of the African elephant, which is concave. Thus Sri Lankan male elephants have well rounded backs which taper downwards steeply, while the females have straight flat box-shaped profiles.Another less obvious difference between the African and the Asian (Sri Lankan) elephant is the tip of the trunk. The Asian species has two finger-like protrusions while the African has one.
The long and flexible trunk can weigh up to 125 – 200 kilograms (275 – 440 pounds). Generally, the Asian elephant has more hair on its body than the African elephant, and it is especially conspicuous in the newborn and juveniles. The body colour could be anything from dark gray of different shades, to dark brown, depending on the colour of the soil and mud where the elephants have bathed and dusted.Mature Sri Lankan elephants in particular display heavy pinkish pigmentation of the skin around the ears, face and trunk.The head of the male has large and pronounced bulges; those of the female are smaller.Only males sprout tusks rarely. (in some cases even longer and heavier than those of the African species)
An average male adult Sri Lankan elephant may reach 3.5 meters (11 feet 6 inches) in shoulder height and weigh 5,500 kilograms (12,125 pounds). Females are much smaller.
The elephant has a very inefficient digestive system, where almost 45% of it’s food intake is passed through as undigested matter. As a result the elephant spends most of it’s life eating, and therefore has to seek out a continuous and abundant supply of food and water. Their diet is strictly herbivorous. Most elephants consume 100 – 150 kilograms(220 – 330 pounds) of food and 80 – 160 liters (20 – 40 gallons) of water per day. The Asian elephant is adapted to be being a grazer rather than a browser. It’s diet will include different types of grasses, as well as juicy leaves and fruits.
All elephant species have one of the longest gestation periods in the animal kingdom, of 18-20 months. One calf is usually born, weighing about 75 – 115 kilograms (165 – 225 pounds) and measure approximately 100 centimeters (3 feet 3 inches) at the shoulder. Elephants reach sexual maturity between the ages of 8 and 14 years, but this varies with the prevailing conditions of the habitat. For instance during severe periods of drought, puberty may be delayed even up to age of 14-15 years. A female elephant can give birth every 4 – 6 years, and has the potential of giving birth to about 6-7 offspring in her lifetime, which is about 55- 60 years.