Behavioral Adaptations of Asian Elephants

By Hayley Ames; Updated April 25, 2017
Asian elephants use their trunks for foraging, bathing, communication and defense.

Asian elephants can be found in their natural habitat in scrub forest and grassland areas of southeast Asia. Behavioral adaptations help Asian elephants to find food and water, care for calves and protect themselves from predators. However, Asian elephants are endangered due to the loss of their natural habitat and as a result of poaching.

Feeding Habits

Asian elephants are herbivorous animals that need to eat large amounts of food to gain enough energy for their large bodies. These animals only require four hours sleep in a 24-hour period, which means that they can eat for up to 20 hours a day. An adult Asian elephant can consume up to 400 pounds of vegetation in a day. Asian elephants have adapted to be able to forage for food wherever possible in their natural habitat, eating roots, grasses, bark and leaves with the help of their trunks and hooves. These elephants limit their movements to ensure that they are never far from a water supply, as they must drink up to 40 gallons of water per day. Young Asian elephants gain bacteria to aid their digestive systems by consuming their mother’s dung.

Social Behavior

Asian elephants move around in herds that can contain up to 30 individuals. Male Asian elephants are independent; they usually join a herd only during the breeding season. Female elephants and their young form herds. They rely on the leadership and experience of the herd’s matriarchal elephant to provide safety and to find supplies of food and water. The old, female elephant that leads the herd is responsible for decisions such as when and where to bathe, where the herd should move next and when they should rest.

Defense and Caring for the Young

From the moment that an Asian elephant calf is born, it is under the protection of its mother and the rest of the herd. Asian elephants encircle a birthing elephant to protect the new arrival. All females in the herd share the responsibility of looking after calves. However, calves also spend a great deal of time with their mothers; a calf feeds from its mother's milk for up to four years. Predators, such as tigers and lions, prey on young Asian elephants. To protect calves from predators, mothers and other females in the herd cover them in dust to cover their smell. If a predator tries to attack a calf, adults form a protective circle around the young elephant. Asian elephants also defend themselves by attacking a predator with their trunk or by crushing the enemy.

Communication and Warning Systems

Asian elephants produce a range of noises, including grunts, trumpets and growls, most of which are inaudible to humans. These sounds can be produced to greet each other, show happiness or assert dominance. One of the most important reasons for communicating is to warn the herd of approaching danger. One of these warning signals involves the Asian elephant beating its trunk on the ground loudly.

About the Author

Born in Norfolk, United Kingdom, Hayley Ames' writing experience includes blog articles for a travel website. Ames was awarded a Bachelor of Arts in English language and literature from the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom.