About This Species
Asian elephants are the largest mammals in Asia. Related females form herds around one matriarch and live in tropical and subtropical forests. Asian elephants need a lot of water—up to 225 liters per day—so the herds stick close to a fresh source. They can spend more than two thirds of each day feeding on grasses, but will also eat bark, roots, leaves and stems. Their proclivity for cultivated crops, like bananas, rice and sugarcane, can bring elephants into conflict with humans.
Though their diverse diets add to their ability to adapt to climate change, a number of other traits make them vulnerable, including sensitivity to high temperatures and reliance on large amounts of water. Asian elephants' long life spans, between 20 and 25 years, make it harder for the species to adapt to incremental changes in climate.
There used to be roughly 100,000 Asian elephants, whose herds roamed across Asia. The now-endangered species has a population of roughly half that size, and it lives on just 15 percent of its historical range, thanks to rapid human population growth, development and poaching. Climate change brings new threats.
The Asian Elephant's Range
Asian elephants live across 13 countries in South and Southeast Asia.
Temperatures are expected to rise across South and Southeast Asia, and extreme heat events are projected to increase in frequency and magnitude. The region is also projected to see increases in heavy rain events during the wet seasons and a higher frequency of drought. Because the elephants' daily activities, reproduction and migration are tied to water, these changes pose a threat to the already-endangered species. Additionally, invasive plant species are on the rise in their habitat, causing a reduction in grass cover and other plants the elephants prefer.