Elephants are native to two continents, Asia and Africa. The prehistoric ancestors of these mammoth animals appeared in Africa around 40 million years ago. On both continents, their habitat is shrinking due to human-elephant conflicts from the increasing incursion into formerly elephant-dominated lands. Both Asians and Africans face the dangers of being poached for their ivory tusks, and skin, and many are killed for the sport of trophy hunting.
Elephants Are Endangered
Asian and African elephants are listed as endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. And the decimation of wild elephants continues despite the efforts of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) which regulates international trade in wildlife and plants to protect species from extinction.
Elephants Are an Essential Part of Wild Ecosystems
All elephants protect ecosystems. Asian and African elephants are critical to preserving forests. Trees and plants rely on elephant dung for pollination and seed dispersal. As elephants walk, they pave clearings for new plants to grow. Wild Asian and African elephants also face some unique dangers, have unique physical attributes and behaviors based on their environment and challenges from human interactions.
Elephants on both continents endure the deprivations from being exploited for tourism and profit.
Differences Between African & Asian Elephants
The major difference between African and Asian elephants is their size. Africans are larger and have bigger ears. Elephant ears regulate their body temperature and enhance their hearing. Elephants have large blood vessels in their ears that help them cool down by flapping their ears like a fan. Elephant ears also help them hear threats from long distances.
Subspecies of African elephants:
- Savannah/Bush elephants
- Forest elephants
Savannah (aka Bush elephants) live in grassy plains and woodlands and Forest elephants live in the equatorial forests of central and western Africa.
Subspecies of Asian elephants:
- Indian elephant
- Sri Lankan elephant
- Sumatran elephant
- Borneo Pygmy elephant
Indian, Sri Lankan and Sumatran and wildlife biologists classify the smallest elephants, the Borneo Pygmy as a subspecies as well.