We enter this week’s ‘Wild Wednesday’ post focusing on what differentiates an Asiatic Elephant from its African cousin? What are the characteristic that differ them from each other and what features we should keep in our minds when we do see one in the wild?
The Elephant Species
One of the most spectacular large mammal species living on planet earth, the Elephant’s taxonomic family originates from Elephantidae. This family takes in count a collection of Elephants & Mammoths. As mentioned being large terrestrial mammal species they have tusks and a trunk. Most of the genera and species of that family have gone extinct leaving only two genera’s alive, the Loxodonta (African elephants) and the Elephas (Asiatic elephants).
Elephants are very sociable animals and they take maximum care in looking after their own kind. Said to be very intelligent with a highly knowledgeable brain similarly shared with other mammals like apes, humans and certain dolphin species. Being similiar to humans, elephants show behavioural varieties ranging from grief, learning, art, using tools, mimicry, playful characteristic, compassion, cooperation, self awareness and very good memory all pointing towards a very intelligent animal.
From a far distance, both these elephant species look very much like each other. With heavy builts, massive tusks and a trunk, very few people can actually make the difference. So, do they actually differ from one another? This is a question that many people I have come across want to know? In reality, yes there is a massive difference and they do wary from one another in their individual descriptions, behaviour patterns, feeding habitats and so forth.
Some people do make a slight judgement on the difference in size of their ears, where the African elephant ears look very much like the continent of Africa whereas the Asiatic elephant has very small ears. In reality, the importance of large ears is to keep the African elephant’s body temperature in control. The ears act as great sensory organs and also large fan’s where the veins at the back of the ears are kept cool with frequent flaps. The hotter the temperature the more frequent the flaps which circulates through the whole body. This keeps the body temperature in control.
Different aspects in the Elephant species
The African Elephants comprise of two species – The African Bush Elephant or the African Savanna Elephant (loxodonta africana) which is the largest of the two African Elephant species. The second being the African Forest Elephant (loxodonta cyclotis) or commonly called the forest dwelling elephant found mainly in the Congo Basin of the African continent. Recently in 2010, scientific findings confirmed this species to be the second elephant species in Africa.
Whereas the Asian or Asiatic Elephant (Elephas Maximum) is the only living species of the genus Elephas with only three remaining subspecies – the Indian particularly in mainland Asia, Island of Srilanka and Sumatra. These Elephants are said to be the the largest living land animals in Asia.
We need to identify other indicators which make these elephant species different from one another and so unique to learn from when in the wild.
Weight - The African elephant weighs between 4000 to 7000 kgs, whereas the Asiatic elephant is less heavy and weighs between 3000 – 6000 kgs.
Counting the Ribs – The African elephant comprises of 21 pairs of ribs whereas the Asiatic has 20 pairs.
Size of the Ears - The African elephant has large ears which reach up to its neck whereas the Asiatic elephant has smaller and does not reach to its neck.
Skin - African elephants skin is more wrinkled and the Asian species is smoother.
Shoulder Height - varies between 3 – 4 meters for the African whereas the Asian elephant 2 – 3.5 meters shoulder height.
Highest Point - The African elephants highest point are on its shoulders whereas the Asiatic elephants highest point is on it’s back.
Shape of the Back – One of the common features seen in the overall difference in the species. The African elephant has a concave structure whereas the Asiatic elephant has a convex and slightly straight shape of the back.
Shape of the Stomach – or the belly is diagonally downward in the direction of the hind legs for the African elephant whereas the Asiatic elephant has an almost straight and sometimes slightly sagging belly in the middle.
Teeth Structure - Said to have four molar’s, one on top and one down on either sides. The African elephant has a more diamond shaped molar compared to the Asiatic elephant which has a more strongly compressed shaped molar. One molar can weight over five pounds (2.27 Kilograms) and is a size of a brick. Elephants can undergo five sets of molars in a lifetime.
Tusks – They act as incisor teeth. Mainly used for defence, digging for water source and lifting things. The African elephant tusks exist in both the sexes. Bigger tusks are mainly with the males. For the Asiatic elephant, it is only the male sex that has tusks whereas females do not.
Trunk - also commonly known as the fusion of the nose and the upper lip, the African elephant has more rings and is less hard compared to the Asiatic elephant which has less rings and is harder. The elephant trunk is very sensitive as well as very strong to rip branches of trees. It is used for drinking water where the elephant can store upto 14 litres of water in its trunk and blows it into their mouth. The trunk for many elephants acts as a social interaction – a good way to greet each other by entwining their trunks with each other. A Elephant trunk has more then 40,000 muscles in it, thats more then the whole human body muscles.
Trunk End - is commonly called the elephant fingers which are projections at the end of their trunk. The African elephant has two fingers whereas the Asiatic has only one. They use these fingers to carry food into their mouth.
Toenails - The African elephant has three toenails on either hind foot and four toenails on either front foot. The Asiatic on the other hand has four toenails on its either hind foot and five toenails on its either front foot.
Lower Lip - The African elephant has a very short and round structured lip whereas the Asiatic elephant has a long and taper upper lip.
Diet – A herbivorous animal, the elephant spends most of the day (over 16 hours) just eating plants. The African elephant mainly feeds on leaves whereas the Asian elephant food intake is grass. The are primarily grazers and a male elephant is normally said to consume 140 – 270 kgs of food a day.
Shape of the Head - The African elephant does not have any crumples, dent or dome like structures on its forehead from the front to back and is structurally flat whereas the Asiatic elephant is completely the opposite. It is crumpled from the front to the back with dome like structures on the top of the forehead and has a heavily uneven forehead. Some people refer the Asiatic elephants forehead to call it a ”Mountain”.
We at Wild Navigator thank wildlife photographer Aditya ”Dicky” Singh for sharing his pictures for this post.