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Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus) Fact Sheet: Population & Conservation Status

Population Status

Population estimates

  • Best available estimate: 46,000 wild individuals (Nowak 2018)
  • Over 50% of the remaining wild Asian elephants occur in India
  • Overall, populations believed to be decreasing (Choudhury et al. 2008)
  • Populations severely fragmented

Conservation Status

IUCN Status (Asian elephant)

  • Endangered  (2008 assessment) (Choudhury et al. 2008)
  • Reduction in population size greater than or equal to 50% over three generations because of decline in habitat

IUCN Status (Sumatran elephant subspecies)

  • Critically Endangered (2011 assessment) (Gopala et al. 2011)
  • ​​Over 69% of this elephants potential habitat has been lost in one generation (25 years); this pattern is expected to continue

CITES Status


History of Protection

1972 Indian Wildlife Protection Act

1976 Listed as Endangered

1989 CITES ( Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora) approves an international ban on ivory. Not likely to provide much benefit to Asian elephants as poaching is minor problem

1997 CITES established MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants) to systematically collect data on elephant population trends. 15 sites in South Asia and 16 in Southeast Asia have been selected for surveying

1998 World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Asian Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy (AREAS) recommends sites for conservation action: sets conservation priorities and resource allocations

Considered a "flagship" species ( chosen to represent an environmental cause) and a "keystone" species (a species whose presence is vital to the ecosystem, as is the keystone in an arch)

Formal recognition of E.m. boreensis as distinct subspecies elevates their conservation importance and ESU's (evolutionary significant units)

 ISIS manage care population


Threats to Survival

Habitat loss/fragmentation and conflict with humans

  • Agriculture
    • Humans use land for coffee, tea, rubber, and teak farming, slash-and burn cultivation
  • Aquaculture in coastal wetlands
  • Mining of iron ore
  • Development, roads
  • Environmental devastation from warfare
  • Poaching, although to a lesser extent than the African elephant


  • Targeted for their meat and skin, which is sold as leather, jewelry, and for medicinal products (traditional medicine) (Sampson et al. 2018)

Allies to Protect Elephants

Two Asian elephants stand at water's edge

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is working to protect elephants in Africa and Asia.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Asian Nature Conservation Foundation (2008)
Blake & Hedges (2004)
Choudhury et al. (2008)
Fernando (2003)
Gopala et al. (2011)
Santiapillai & Jackson (1990)
Sukumar (1989, 2003, 2008)

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