Sri Lankan Elephant
Elephas Maximus Maximus
One of the world's largest and rarest land animals
Sri Lankan Elephant Scientific Classification
- Scientific Name
- Elephas Maximus Maximus
Sri Lankan Elephant Conservation Status
Sri Lankan Elephant Locations
Sri Lankan Elephant Facts
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“The Sri Lankan elephant is one of the world’s largest and rarest land animals.”
The Sri Lankan elephant is one of three subspecies of the Asian elephant. The species as a whole is recognized as being the largest land animal in Asia and the Sri Lankan type is the largest of the species. With a population that only includes a few thousand individuals, these elephants are actively conserved and are considered at risk of further population decline. Geographically, they are limited to the island of Sri Lanka situated off the southern coast of India. Fragmentation of their habit, narrowing of geographic range and frequent lethal interactions with humans are all contributing factors in their decline.
Sri Lankan Elephant Facts
- Massive Proportions: This subspecies has the biggest height and weight of all Asian elephants. They can weigh over 10,000 pounds and reach a height of over 10 feet at the shoulder.
- Tusk Rarity: Sri Lankan elephants only rarely have tusks compared to other types of elephant. Only a small fraction of adult males grow them out.
- Small Range: These animals may be big, but their natural geographic range is not. They are only found in select regions of the island of Sri Lanka.
- Big Appetite: These animals need to eat hundreds of pounds of food each day to maintain their massive body.
Sri Lankan Elephant Scientific Name
Sri Lankan elephants are genetically distinct from other members of their species, but can also simply be called Asian elephants like their brethren found elsewhere on the continent. In taxonomic terms, these animals are known as Elephas maximus maximus. The word “elaphas” has Greek and Latin roots that indicate an antlered animal or “big arch.” The word maximus is also Latin and simply means “biggest” or “greatest,” which is an appropriate choice given their size. The subspecies belongs to the Elephantidae family in the Mammalia class.
Sri Lankan Elephant Appearance
Sri Lankan elephants are the largest of the Asian elephant subspecies and the biggest land animals on the continent. Adults can reach a height of 11.5 feet, which is about twice as tall as an average human man. Body weight can range from 4,400 to 12,000 pounds. There is generally a big size difference between male and female elephants. Males are typically 20 to 30 percent taller and can weigh almost twice as much as a female of comparable age.
These elephants have a mostly grey body with lighter spots or flecks caused by a lack of pigment in some of the skin cells. They have a rounded torso that is supported by strong, cylindrical legs. They have small, angular ears that are generally tucked next to their heads, which has a distinct double-dome shape. Like all elephants, these animals are also equipped with a long and flexible trunk that serves many practical purposes.
They are also set apart from other Asian elephant subspecies in that only a small fraction, about 5 to 10 percent, of males grow pronounced tusks. Also, unlike African elephant species, female Sri Lankan elephants never grow tusks beyond short nubs. The longest tusks reported on a Sri Lankan elephant were 7.5 feet long and belonged to Raja, a nationally-recognized animal in India who served a ceremonial role in a local religious center.
Sri Lankan Elephant Behavior
Like other elephant species, these animals have complex and integrated social behaviors that serve a critical role in their development and survival. Groups of related females and their calves, collectively called a clan, typically travel together and share in the responsibilities of caring for young. Male elephants leave their clan when they reach sexual maturity and live solitary lives or in small, loosely-bonded groups with other males.
All Asian elephants rely on a combination of communication methods to interact with their clan members and potential mates. Their mouth and trunk are both involved in making a variety of noises for short and long-distance communication. They also rely on several glands to secrete chemical signals and may use their trunks to communicate via touching.
Sri Lankan Elephant Habitat
As their name suggests, this subspecies is found only on the Indian island of Sri Lanka off the country’s southern coast. While the elephants were once distributed throughout the entire island, from coasts to mountains, they are now mostly found in the lowland regions. They are migratory by nature, so only spend some of their time in areas that have been designated as protected parks and preserves.
Due to the hot and dry nature of their native habitat, these elephants engage in several types of behaviors designed to manage their internal temperature. They can frequently be seen submerging themselves in freshwater bodies and may cover themselves with mud. They also repeatedly flap their ears as a way of releasing body heat.
Sri Lankan Elephant Diet
Sri Lankan elephants are considered megaherbivores due the vast quantity of plant matter they consume on a daily basis. Adults can eat over 300 pounds of food in a single day or up to 10 percent of their body weight. Their massive appetite requires over 12 hours of foraging every day and frequent migrations to find fresh feeding grounds throughout the year.
What does the Sri Lankan elephant eat?
These elephants are generalist foragers, which means they are willing and able to eat many different kinds of plants. Researchers have identified over 100 different plant species that compose part of their diet, including dozens of species used in human cultivation. Regenerating forests are usually better for foraging than mature ones.
Sri Lankan Elephant Predators and Threats
A small and declining population has prompted conservationists to classify the Sri Lankan elephant as endangered. Continued habitat fragmentation due to the expansion of human settlements and growing agricultural areas is a significant threat. Historically, these elephants were frequently targeted for hunting and extermination until the 20th century, which decimated the natural population.
Poaching by humans and attacks from natural predators are a minimal threat to Sri Lankan elephants. The rarity of tusk-bearing males in this subspecies limits their appeal for ivory poachers. However, clashes with humans are still a leading cause of death for these elephants. Loss and fragmentation of their habitat has forced migration through populated areas, which may become violent and lead to the death of the animal. Some farmers also intentionally shoot or poison elephants who could damage their crops.
What eats Sri Lankan elephants?
Aside from human hunting in the past, these elephants have few natural predators due to their massive size. Their only known predator is the Bengal tiger, but even these voracious and powerful carnivores usually limit their targets to young elephants.
Sri Lankan Elephant Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan
Mating rituals are typically competitive between males with females making the final selection of the most desirable mate. Reproduction can occur throughout the year, but is largely influenced by the hormonal state of the two individuals involved. Females have a brief estrus period of 3 to 7 days when they are fertile and ready to mate. Males also enter a similar hormonal phase called musth, which greatly increases their potential as a mate.
Sri Lankan elephants have a long gestation period that can extend for up to 680 days. They typically give birth to a single calf, which exits the womb weighing 200 to 300 pounds. Males don’t participate in raising or caring for the offspring. Instead, females and their young tend to linger around related adult females in clans lead by a single matriarch. All members of this “nursing unit” look after and help raise the calves.
Calves must nurse to survive for about 2 years and complete weaning is usually finished after about 4 years. Calves become independent within a year or two of weaning, with males leaving their clan to lead solitary lives or in small groups with other males. Elephants of both genders generally reach sexual maturity when they are around 10 to 15 years old and can live well over 60 years in the wild.
Sri Lankan Elephant Population
Current population estimates for this subspecies is between 2,500 and 4,000 adult individuals. The population has been on a declining trend since the colonial period and conservationists believe it will continue in the years ahead. In fact, some experts believe that the animal will be extinct in the wild within decades. Their need for vast migratory tracts and possibility of negative interactions with humans makes conservation efforts very challenging.View all 184 animals that start with S
Sri Lankan Elephant FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Are Sri Lankan elephants carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores?
These elephants are purely herbivores and are only known to eat plant matter.
What does the Sri Lankan elephant eat?
These massive herbivores are sometimes called megaherbivores due to the sheer quantity of food they consume on a daily basis. They can eat up to 10 percent of their body mass, or 300 pounds, of food day. Over 100 species of grasses, trees, shrubs and cultivated crops are suitable as food for these big eaters.
How many Sri Lankan elephants are left?
Conservationists believe there are 2500 to 4000 adult elephants left in the wild. Their sharp population decline is expected to continue into the decades ahead and lead to complete extinction in the wild within a few generations.
Do Sri Lankan elephants have tusks?
Some of these elephants have tusks, but they are actually quite rare compared to African species and other Asian elephant subspecies. Only male elephants can grow their tusks out and only about 7 or 8 percent of them actually do.
What is the scientific name of the Sri Lankan elephant?
The scientific name of the Sri Lankan elephant is Elephas maximus maximus, which literally means “biggest of the biggest.”
What is the lifespan of the Sri Lankan elephant?
These massive animals can live to up to 80 years old, although the general life expectancy is around 65. Elephants in captivity have an average lifespan of 40 to 50 years.
What Kingdom do Sri Lankan Elephants belong to?
Sri Lankan Elephants belong to the Kingdom Animalia.
What phylum to Sri Lankan Elephants belong to?
Sri Lankan Elephants belong to the phylum Chordata.
What class do Sri Lankan Elephants belong to?
Sri Lankan Elephants belong to the class Mammalia.
What family do Sri Lankan Elephants belong to?
Sri Lankan Elephants belong to the family Elephantidae.
What order do Sri Lankan Elephants belong to?
Sri Lankan Elephants belong to the order Proboscidea.
What type of covering do Sri Lankan Elephants have?
Sri Lankan Elephants are covered in Leathery skin.
What genus do Sri Lankan Elephants belong to?
Sri Lankan Elephants belong to the genus Elephas.
In what type of habitat do Sri Lankan Elephants live?
Sri Lankan Elephants live in rainforests and tropical woodlands.
What are some predators of Sri Lankan Elephants?
Predators of Sri Lankan Elephants include humans and tigers.
What are some distinguishing features of Sri Lankan Elephants?
Sri Lankan Elephants have long trunks and large feet.
How many babies do Sri Lankan Elephants have?
The average number of babies a Sri Lankan Elephant has is 1.
What is an interesting fact about Sri Lankan Elephants?
Sri Lankan Elephants are now restricted to a few parks!
What is the lifespan of a Sri Lankan Elephant?
Sri Lankan Elephants can live for 55 to 70 years.
How fast is a Sri Lankan Elephant?
A Sri Lankan Elephant can travel at speeds of up to 27 miles per hour.
- World Wildlife Fund, Available here: https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/sri-lankan-elephant
- , Available here: https://phys.org/news/2020-08-virus-sri-lanka-threatened-elephants.html
- Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sri_Lankan_elephant
- International Elephant Foundation, Available here: https://elephantconservation.org/elephants/asian-elephants/