The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has listed the Asian Elephant as endangered with a decreasing population.
It is very difficult to accurately count elephant populations due to densely vegetated habitats. The error margins are also high due to different survey techniques and beliefs that population monitoring is unimportant. However, we do believe that over 50% of the remaining wild Asian elephants are in India.
The overall population trend of the Asian elephant has been downwards for many centuries and this has been especially evident in the countries of South-east Asia. Happily, at least in India, there is some evidence that the large population of elephants in the Western Ghats in the south of the country has been increasing in recent years due to improved conservation effectiveness.
At the turn of the 20th century, there were about 100,000 Asian elephants. Today, there are probably only between 35,000 – 40,000 in the wild. They now occur on only about 10% of their historical range and many remaining populations are small, isolated and vulnerable.
Habitat loss and fragmentation
- Because elephants require much larger areas of natural habitat than most other terrestrial mammals in Asia, they are one of the first species to suffer the consequences of habitat fragmentation and destruction.
- Its great size and huge food demands mean that the elephant cannot co-exist easily, if at all, with people in areas where agriculture is the dominant form of land-use.
- Asia is the world’s most densely populated continent and much of the elephants’ former range has already been lost. Their natural forest home has been reduced to a fraction of its former size. India’s extensive forests for example, where elephants roamed widely, now cover less than 20 percent of the country, and barely half of that is suitable for elephants.
- Thailand has cleared almost all of its lowland forest, creating a huge void of wildlife habitat in the heart of the country, and as the country’s human population continues to grow, the elephants’ remaining habitat is shrinking fast.
- To find the best feeding areas, elephants migrate with the seasons. Large development projects (such as dams, roads, and mines), agricultural plantations and expanding human settlements simply fragment elephant habitat. Wild elephant populations are now mostly small and isolated and unable to mingle as their ancient migratory routes are cut off by human settlements.