Ivory tusks of poached elephants lay stacked on shelves.


Asian elephants are killed on a regular basis for their extremely valuable ivory tusks and for their meat and skin. (These items become more valuable as this species grows closer to extinction). The practice of poaching in Asia has a 500-year-long history, as seen in ancient artifacts with ivory carvings. Great progress has been made in the effort to stop poaching with the ban of the international ivory trade by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1989, however illegal poaching and black market trade still persist.


As a result of poaching, fewer male Asian elephants exist within the population. This leads to inbreeding which often results in genetic mutations that cause increased infant mortality and overall lowered breeding success.


Asian elephants are located in the forests of Southeast Asia, from India to Borneo. In the last quarter of a century, the human population has increased rapidly in these countries. As population increases, forest habitats are being removed to make room for agriculture and infrastructure development, resulting in habitat loss and fragmentation. With shrinking habitat size, elephants are forced to roam among these developed areas, increasing their contact with humans. Though protected areas do exist for these elephants, they are not confined to these protected areas as seen in the case of Sri Lankan elephants (Fernando).


Elephant captured and chained for domestic use in Thailand.

The known usage of elephants in Asia for domestic use goes back to as far as the 5th century. From around the 15th century onward, it is known that elephants have been used for war and labor purposes. The capture of these animals has become a threat to wild populations, however it is still done illegally in Myanmar for timber and tourist industries as well as for illegal trade.  The combination of wild capture/domestication and habitat loss greatly increases the frequency of human-elephant contact.  As elephants lose their habitat, they are forced to roam where humans reside, posing a threat to crops and thus, livelihoods.  This threat that elephants pose to humans has caused humans to retaliate by capturing, shooting and often poisoning elephants. As humans and elephants work together for labor purposes, elephants may “act out” (often as a result of mistreatment by the human handler), killing several humans. Ultimately, the elephants are the ones who suffered in these conflicts as evident by their declining population numbers.


The Barail Range and Garo Hills are two adjacent regions of Assam, India. This graph shows the population size following habitat-loss, fragmentation and human disturbance in these particular regions, as well as the total number of Asian Elephants present in the wild. After the complete loss of habitat for the elephants in the Barail Range, elephant populations plummeted and perhaps some individuals migrated to the neighboring Garo Hills region. (Sources: Choudhury, 2004; WWF, 2003)