Sri Lankan elephant

Elephas maximus maximus

The Sri Lankan elephant is one of three recognized subspecies of the Asian elephant, and native to Sri Lanka. Since 1986, ''Elephas maximus'' has been listed as endangered by IUCN as the population has declined by at least 50% over the last three generations, estimated to be 60–75 years. The species is pre-eminently threatened by habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation.

''Elephas maximus maximus'' is the type subspecies of the Asian elephant, first described by Carl Linnaeus under the binominal ''Elephas maximus'' in 1758.

The Sri Lankan elephant population is now largely restricted to the dry zone in the north, east and southeast of Sri Lanka. Elephants are present in Udawalawe National Park, Yala National Park, Lunugamvehera National Park, Wilpattu National Park and Minneriya National Park but also live outside protected areas. It is estimated that Sri Lanka has the highest density of elephants in Asia. Human-elephant conflict is increasing due to conversion of elephant habitat to settlements and permanent cultivation.
Sri Lankan elephant family emerging at sunset in Kaudulla, Sri Lanka  Asia,Elephas maximus maximus,Kaudulla,Sri Lanka,Sri Lankan elephant

Appearance

In general, Asian elephants are smaller than African elephants and have the highest body point on the head. The tip of their trunk has one finger-like process. Their back is convex or level. Females are usually smaller than males, and have short or no tusks.

Sri Lankan elephants are the largest subspecies reaching a shoulder height of between 2 and 3.5 m , weigh between 2,000 and 5,500 kg , and have 19 pairs of ribs. Their skin color is darker than of ''indicus'' and of ''sumatranus'' with larger and more distinct patches of depigmentation on ears, face, trunk and belly.

Only 7% of males bear tusks.
According to the elephant census conducted in 2011 by the Wildlife Conservation Department of Sri Lanka, only 2% of the total population are tuskers.

Sri Lankan elephants are somewhat diminutive when compared with historical accounts dating back to 200 BC and with photographs taken in the 19th century during the time of colonial British rule of the island. The smaller size could possibly be the end result of a long-continued process of removing the physically best specimens from the potential breeding-stock through hunting or domestication .
Sri Lankan Elephant mother and young, Wasgamuwa, Sri Lanka  Asia,Elephas maximus maximus,Sri Lanka,Sri Lankan elephant,Wasgamuwa

Distribution

Elephants are restricted mostly to the lowlands in the dry zone where they are still fairly widespread in north, south, east, north-western, north-central and south-eastern Sri Lanka. A small remnant population exists in the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary. They are absent from the wet zone of the country. Apart from Wilpattu and Ruhuna National Parks, all other protected areas are less than 1,000 km2 in extent. Many areas are less than 50 km2 , and hence not large enough to encompass the entire home ranges of elephants that use them. In the Mahaweli Development Area, protected areas such as Wasgomuwa National Park, Flood Plains National Park, Somawathiya National Park, and Trikonamadu Nature Reserve have been linked resulting in an overall area of 1,172 km2 of contiguous habitat for elephants. Nevertheless, about 65% of the elephants range extends outside protected areas.The size of wild elephant populations in Sri Lanka was estimated at
⤷ 12,000 to 14,000 in the early 19th century;
⤷ 10,000 in the early 20th century;
⤷ 7,000 to 8,000 in around 1920;
⤷ between 1,745 and 2,455 individuals in 1969;
⤷ between 2,500 and 3,435 in 1987;
⤷ 1,967 in June 1993 that were fragmented in five regions;
⤷ between 3,150 and 4,400 in 2000;
⤷ 3,150 in 2006;
⤷ 2,900-3,000 in 2007;
⤷ 5,879 in 2011, on the basis of counting elephants at water holes in the dry season.
Sri Lanka Elephant attack - the warning step Those that have read our travel report from Sri Lanka have read how we were attacked by a large male bull whilst in a jeep in Wasgamuwa. It was a full force head-on charge, that went very quickly, yet gave us the time enough to consider it could be our last moment. Luckily, the bull stopped only 1m in front of our jeep, due to 2 guides in the jeep distracting the elephant with hand signals and lots of shouting.

As the attack took us of guard, we have no pictures of it. Surprising enough, a 2nd attack followed whilst we were still recovering from the 1st. This time I did snap a few, so hereby I'll share some.

In this scene, the male is clearly protecting the two young by blocking them from us. Not only that, it is making slow but firm step towards us, a first sign that we are considered a threat or nuisance. Asia,Elephas maximus maximus,Sri Lanka,Sri Lankan elephant,Wasgamuwa

Status

''Elephas maximus'' is listed on CITES Appendix I.

The elephant conservation strategy of the Department of Wildlife Conservation aims at conserving as many viable populations as possible in as wide a range of suitable habitats as is feasible. This means protecting elephants both within the system of protected areas and as many animals outside these areas that the land can support and landholders will accept, and not restricting elephants to the protected area network alone.

⤷ In the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Kegalle injured elephants are treated, and orphaned baby elephants cared for. Nearly 70 elephants live here. Captive breeding is also going on.
⤷ The Udawalawe Elephant Transit Centre in Udawalawe National Park is a rehabilitation centre, where orphaned elephant calves are being kept until they can be released into the wild.
The Sri Lankan elephant - Elephas maximus maximus Minneriya National Park is located in North Central Province of Sri Lanka. It is great gatthering place for elephants in the dry season. The elephants are attracted to grass fields on the edges of the reservoir. I've never seen so many elephants together :) Animalia,Asian elephant,Elephantidae,Elephas,Elephas maximus,Elephas maximus maximus,Geotagged,Mammalia,Minneriya National Park,Proboscidae,Sri Lanka,Sri Lankan elephant,chordata

Behavior

Elephants are classified as megaherbivores and consume up to 150 kg of plant matter per day. As generalists they feed on a wide variety of food plants. In Sri Lanka's northwestern region, feeding behaviour of elephants was observed during the period of January 1998 to December 1999. The elephants fed on a total of 116 plant species belonging to 35 families including 27 species of cultivated plants. More than half of the plants were non tree species, i.e. shrub, herb, grass, or climbers. More than 25% of the plant species belonged to the family ''Leguminosae'', and 19% of the plant species belonged to the family of true grasses. The presence of cultivated plants in dung does not result solely due to raiding of crops as it was observed that elephants feed on leftover crop plants in fallow chenas. Juvenile elephants tend to feed predominantly on grass species.

Food resources are abundant in regenerating forests, but at low density in mature forests. Traditional slash-and-burn agriculture creates optimum habitat for elephants through promoting successional vegetation.
Sri Lankan elephant family bathing at Kaudulla, Sri Lanka The youngster clearly was afraid of drowning and was helped constantly. Asia,Elephas maximus maximus,Kaudulla,Sri Lanka,Sri Lankan elephant

Habitat

Elephants are restricted mostly to the lowlands in the dry zone where they are still fairly widespread in north, south, east, north-western, north-central and south-eastern Sri Lanka. A small remnant population exists in the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary. They are absent from the wet zone of the country. Apart from Wilpattu and Ruhuna National Parks, all other protected areas are less than 1,000 km2 in extent. Many areas are less than 50 km2 , and hence not large enough to encompass the entire home ranges of elephants that use them. In the Mahaweli Development Area, protected areas such as Wasgomuwa National Park, Flood Plains National Park, Somawathiya National Park, and Trikonamadu Nature Reserve have been linked resulting in an overall area of 1,172 km2 of contiguous habitat for elephants. Nevertheless, about 65% of the elephants range extends outside protected areas.Elephants are classified as megaherbivores and consume up to 150 kg of plant matter per day. As generalists they feed on a wide variety of food plants. In Sri Lanka's northwestern region, feeding behaviour of elephants was observed during the period of January 1998 to December 1999. The elephants fed on a total of 116 plant species belonging to 35 families including 27 species of cultivated plants. More than half of the plants were non tree species, i.e. shrub, herb, grass, or climbers. More than 25% of the plant species belonged to the family ''Leguminosae'', and 19% of the plant species belonged to the family of true grasses. The presence of cultivated plants in dung does not result solely due to raiding of crops as it was observed that elephants feed on leftover crop plants in fallow chenas. Juvenile elephants tend to feed predominantly on grass species.

Food resources are abundant in regenerating forests, but at low density in mature forests. Traditional slash-and-burn agriculture creates optimum habitat for elephants through promoting successional vegetation.
Sri Lanka Elephant attack - charge two Those that have read our travel report from Sri Lanka have read how we were attacked by a large male bull whilst in a jeep in Wasgamuwa. It was a full force head-on charge, that went very quickly, yet gave us the time enough to consider it could be our last moment. Luckily, the bull stopped only 1m in front of our jeep, due to 2 guides in the jeep distracting the elephant with hand signals and lots of shouting. 

As the attack took us of guard, we have no pictures of it. Surprising enough, a 2nd attack followed whilst we were still recovering from the 1st. This time I did snap a few, so hereby I'll share some.

This is the 2nd charge in full action, several tons of animal speeding towards us over a very short distance of about 20m. Having been through this experience just minutes before, this time I managed to snap this one, meanwhile hoping that it would end just like the 1st attack: with the male backing of at the last moment. I was as scared as during the 1st attack, but figured I could not control my faith anyway, so I might as well shoot a few. 

Where I normally cannot tell one elephant from the other, I have no problem recognizing this one. It's edged in my memory forever. I recognize it from the wart above its left eye (right on the photo).

Note that I do not share this to glorify the experience. We felt very bad about both incidents and have no intention to provoke animals. I'm documenting this to share a lesson learned, to show warning signs, to recognize behavior and better yet, to prevent it altogether by observing from further away (tell your driver). 

Looking back at the sequence....

Right after the first attack:
http://www.jungledragon.com/image/26398/sri_lanka_elephant_attack_-_the_calm_mother_and_her_baby.html
The male, annoyed that we are still too close, gives a first warning:

http://www.jungledragon.com/image/26404/sri_lanka_elephant_attack_-_the_warning_step.html
The male deciding whether to attack again:

http://www.jungledragon.com/image/26405/sri_lanka_elephant_attack_-_deciding.html
The male, giving a last warning:

http://www.jungledragon.com/image/26406/sri_lanka_elephant_attack_-_final_warning.html
Silence before the storm:

http://www.jungledragon.com/image/26399/sri_lanka_elephant_attack_-_introducing_the_bull_male.html
Full charge:

http://www.jungledragon.com/image/26401/sri_lanka_elephant_attack_-_charge_two.html
Happy ending:

http://www.jungledragon.com/image/26407/sri_lanka_elephant_attack_-_happy_ending.html Asia,Elephas maximus maximus,Sri Lanka,Sri Lankan elephant,Wasgamuwa

Predators

During the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, elephants were maimed or killed by land mines. Between 1990 and 1994, a total of 261 wild elephants died either as a result of gunshot injuries, or were killed by poachers and land mines. Several elephants stepped on land mines and were crippled.

Today, given the rarity of tuskers in Sri Lanka, poaching for ivory is not a major threat. Nevertheless, some trade in ivory still goes on. Kandy has been identified as the centre for such illegal trade. The greatest threat to elephants comes from an expanding human population and its demand for land. Loss of significant extents of elephant range to development continues currently, with a number of irrigation and development projects leading to the conversion of more elephant ranges to irrigated agriculture and settlements.

Between 1999 to the end of 2006 every year nearly 100 wild elephants were killed. Elephants are killed to protect crops and houses. Other threats are poaching, deforestation, drought and starvation. During drought seasons many elephants damage agricultural land for food. Nearly 80 elephants were killed in north western Sri Lanka, 50 in south and east, and another 30 in other parts of the country, totaling 160 elephant deaths in 2006 alone.
Sri Lankan elephant family formation at Kaudulla, Sri Lanka The original photo lacked any contrast due to the backlight, so this one is fairly heavily post processed. In case you're curious, I used the "Lord of the Rings" effect from Perfect Photo Suite, an effect that dramatizes lighting and slightly softens the scene. 

Anyway, I particularly enjoy how the youngsters are guarded on the sides by adults. They are such caring species. Asia,Elephas maximus maximus,Kaudulla,Sri Lanka,Sri Lankan elephant

Cultural

Elephants were a common element in Sinhalese heraldry for over two thousand years and remained so through British colonial rule. The coat of arms and the flag of Ceylon Government from 1875 to 1948 included an elephant and even today many institutions use the Sri Lankan elephant in their coat of arms and insignia.

An important cultural symbiosis has continued to exist between the elephant and humans for over two thousand years – no religious procession was complete without its retinue of elephants, and many large Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka had their own elephants.

References:

Some text fragments are auto parsed from Wikipedia.

Taxonomy
KingdomAnimalia
DivisionChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderProboscidea
FamilyElephantidae
GenusElephas
SpeciesE. maximus
Photographed in
Sri Lanka