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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.

Human-wildlife conflict

A substantial proportion of the world’s human populations live in or near the elephants’ current ranges.

Pressure is growing as Asia’s population keeps rising and as more and more of the elephants’ habitat is transformed into agricultural land.

Elephants and people are now coming into contact more often – increasing the likelihood of human-wildlife conflicts. In their quest for food, elephants raid farmers’ fields and damage their crops, which are vital for their livelihoods. As a result, farmers sometimes kill elephants to protect their fields and families. Some experts believe that these confrontations are now the leading cause of elephant deaths in Asia. Poaching and capture

Elephant poaching is not as severe a threat in Asia as in Africa, mainly because all Asian females are tuskless or have only tiny tusks.

Nevertheless, in some parts of Asia, especially in India, ivory poaching by selectively removing the tusked males has dramatically skewed adult sex ratios: Over the 20-year period from 1969 to 1989 the adult male-female sex ratio changed from 1:6 to 1:122 dramatically, reducing genetic variation.

Asian elephants are still poached for a variety of other products (including meat, hair and leather). 

In some Asian countries, elephants are still taken from the wild to work in the logging industry and for ceremonial purposes. Unfortunately, crude capture methods cause high mortality. Better education and training in the welfare benefits of captive breeding are urgently required. Climate change

Many climate change projections indicate that key parts of the Asian elephants’ habitat will become significantly hotter and drier, resulting in poorer foraging conditions and threatening calf survival. How is conservation accomplished?

Conservation of the elephant’s habitat and maintaining habitat connectivity can be achieved by positively securing corridors between areas.

Management of human–elephant conflicts is crucial as part of an integrated land-use policy that recognizes elephants as economic assets from which local people need to benefit or at least not to suffer financially.

Better protection for the Asian elephant is essential through improved legislation and law enforcement, improved and enhanced field patrolling, and by regulating/curbing trade in ivory and other elephant products.

In some countries, compensation is paid for crops destroyed by elephants and where people have been killed. But such policies are not widespread and much more has to be done to prevent the slaughter of elephants in human areas.

Reliable estimates of population size and trends are urgently needed as part of this monitoring and adaptive management approach.