The Asian Elephant
The elephant, largest of the land mammals, has been an integral part of the history, mythology, tradition, culture and religion of India. There are three surviving species of elephants in the world, one in Asia and two in Africa. The Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) is distributed in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Unlike the African species, Asian elephants have been domesticated for thousands of years and have been used in medieval warfare, for temples, and as a working animal.
The Asian elephant was once found throughout south and southeast Asia but now it has been reduced to several scattered populations because of human activities like conversion of forest areas to farming, construction of dams and civil works like roads and canals. Apart from habitat constriction, these wide-ranging animals also face obstruction of their traditional migration routes. Poaching of elephants for ivory is another serious problem that elephants face.
Elephants are notable for their remarkable intelligence and a sharp memory. This is because elephants have the largest brains in the animal kingdom. Males have tusks and such elephants are commonly called “tuskers”. There are also some tuskless males, called “makhnas”. The trunk of an elephant is a most distinct and versatile organ and can be used for feeding and drinking, breathing, trumpeting, herding the young ones and sometimes even for fighting.
Asian elephants live in a variety of habitats. They prefer a combination of grassland, shrubbery, and forest.
Elephants are strictly vegetarian and prefer grasses, leaves, stems of trees, vines, bamboos and shrubs. Sometimes they also enter fields in the villages located near forests and raid crops.
Owing to its large size, and high forage requirements elephants are constantly on the move, searching for food. They undertake long-distance migrations and follow the same seasonal migratory routes generation after generation. However, in recent times the migratory routes have been encroached upon by human activities which has seriously affected their movement.
Elephants are social and live in groups consisting of females and their young and are led by the eldest and most experienced female. Living in herds is useful for collective defence, better care and teaching of young ones and increased mating opportunities. Adult males usually travel alone and associate with female herds for mating.
Corbett Tiger Reserve has about 700 Asian elephants. They are part of the migratory population that also lives in Rajaji National Park. Earlier, there were much fewer elephants in Corbett but their population in the park has increased significantly in recent decades. Although, present throughout the Park, elephants are most easily sighted in Dhikala chaur, Phulai chaur, and near the Saddle Dam.