The Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) is one of two species of elephants alive today. They vary greatly in size between the four subspecies, although all are smaller than the large African elephant. Throughout their range, Asian elephants experience an array of temperatures, although their habitats are found in tropical areas near the equator.
Subspecies and Range
While the Asian elephant used to have a range that spread throughout all of Southeast Asia as far north as the Yangtze River in China, they are now limited to only parts of India and Southeast Asia such as Sumatra and Borneo. The Indian elephant (Elephas maximus indicus) has a range that includes India, Burma, Cambodia, Thailand and China. The Sri Lankan elephant (Elephas maximus maximus) inhabits Sri Lanka. The Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatransis) and Borneo elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) inhabit Sumatra and northern Borneo, respectively.
The climate where Asian elephants live is tropical, although in some parts the temperature is slightly colder than typical of tropical climates. A tropical climate is typically defined as a non-arid climate with low temperatures remaining over 64 degrees. In general, the temperatures don't vary too greatly and seasons are defined by precipitation. Throughout most of their range, Asian elephants experience average temperatures in the low 70s to mid-80s. Because they are adaptable to different habitats, however, the temperatures in the higher mountain forests can be much cooler.
Throughout most of their range, the seasons are dominated not by changes in temperature, but by the amount of rainfall. Most geographic areas these elephants inhabit have two distinct seasons: wet and dry. These seasons are created by monsoons, or changes in wind direction that create changes in precipitation. During the dry season, the average monthly rainfall is less than 2.4 inches.
The Asian elephant can live in a wide variety of habitats, including jungle and mountain forests, but they tend to prefer forest edges bordered by grasslands and short woody plants. Due to conflicts with humans, these elephants have progressively moved into more remote areas where human interaction and conflict is at a minimum. The forested blocks can be moist, lowland evergreen forests to the much drier forests found at elevations up to 10,000 feet.
- Animal Diversity Web: Elephas Maximus
- University of Wisconsin La Crosse: Asian Elephant
- Sri Lanka Department of Meteorology: Climate in Sri Lanka
- IndonesianWeather.net: Indonesia Climate
- Amazing Thailand: Weather
- SumatraEcoTourism.com: Climate and Wildlife
- Smithsonian National Zoological Park: Asian Elephants
- Anup Shah/Photodisc/Getty Images