Where Do Elephants Live? Their Habitats Explained

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Published: November 21, 2021
Image Credit Stephen Bridger/Shutterstock.com
Share this post on:

When we named elephants we gave a big clue as to where they live. The African elephant lives…in Africa. The Asian elephant? Yes, in Asia. But where in Africa and Asia? What kind of habitat do these giant mammals have? Do all elephants live in the same kind of habitat? Let’s take a look at the three elephant species and where they live.

Where Do Elephants Live?

Where do elephants live - elephant habitat
An elephant grazing across its habitat

Stephen Bridger/Shutterstock.com

Up until the end of the last ice age, elephant-like creatures roamed across the massive Eurasian Steppe and across much of North America.

However, today, elephants are limited to temperate areas in both Africa and Asia. Africa is home to two different elephant species. The African bush elephant lives across savannas and plains while the African forest elephant lives in rainforests and other wooded areas that are dense in vegetation.

Likewise, the Asian elephant also lives mostly in areas that are more dense with vegetation. Its range stretches from India to the islands of Indonesia. Let’s dig into the habitat of all three elephant species.

Where Does the African Bush Elephant Live?

Tallest Animals: African Bush Elephant
Elephants communicate in a variety of ways – including sounds like trumpet calls (some sounds are too low for people to hear), body language, touch and scent. Sadly, about 90% of African elephants have been wiped out in the last century due to poaching.

There are two species of elephants that live in Africa, the African bush and African forest elephant. The African bush elephant lives in the sub-Saharan Africa in countries like Zimbabwe, Kenya and South Sudan, but are native in 37 different African countries. They can live in wooded savannas, grasslands and even semi-desert areas. A savanna is a large open grassland with small trees scattered throughout. Think of the set of the Lion King! The Serengeti is the most well-known savanna area.

Elephants need a large area to search for food and water. They spend most of their days roaming for grasses, bark, roots and fruit. Each elephant needs to consume around 300 lbs of food per day! They also have to find sources of water to provide the needed 30-50 gallons a day.

As humans develop more areas, the available land for elephants and other wildlife shrinks and is making it more and more difficult to sustain the large numbers of elephants that used to roam the earth. All three elephant species are now listed as endangered by the IUCN.

The African forest elephant

Male forest elephant at (forest clearing), Ivindo National Park, Gabon.

Peter H. Wrege / Creative Commons

The African forest elephant lives in the rainforests of central and west Africa along the equator with most of them living in Gabon. In contrast to the wide open savanna habitat, the rainforests are dense and packed with trees and vegetation. This makes it difficult for researchers to count them. The main diet of forest elephants is fruit so they must forage for food throughout the day to find enough fruit to support themselves. They also eat leaves, grass and tree bark.

The Asian elephant

Can elephants jump Indian elephant
An Asian elephant in the beautiful forest at Kanchanaburi province in Thailand.

The Asian elephant lives in southeast Asia. There are three subspecies of Asian elephants classified by where they live; the Sri Lankan elephant, Indian elephant and Sumatran elephant. There are also elephant that live in Borneo, the Bornean elephant, but researchers do not yet agree if they are actually a distinct separate subspecies.

  • The Indian elephant: Although these elephants used to roam all over India, they are now confined to 29 different reserves in India. They are highly protected under the Wildlife Protection Act. Their habitat is dense forests where they can feed on their main diet of grasses but if they can find it, will enjoy bananas and sugar cane.
  • The Sri Lankan elephant: Sri Lanka is a large island off the southern tip of India. Most of the elephants on this island can be found in the drier but forested areas.
  • The Sumatran elephant: The numbers of the Sumatran elephant are critically low. They live in the tropical forest habitat as well where they forage for food.
  • The Bornean elephant: Borneo is an island just east of Indonesia. These elephants are the smallest of the Asian elephants and are sometimes referred to as Borneo pygmy elephants. They live in forest areas and eat grass, roots, leaves and bananas.

Share this post on:
About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness and suggesting actions we can all do to help wildlife. As a former elementary school teacher I have a love for learning and teaching. My goal is to get kids fired-up about animals. Learning about the animals we share this earth with makes life better. When I am not writing I am living the good life with my husband and six kids (we are down to two that are still at home...and our giant labradoodle, Tango!).

More from A-Z Animals