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Amanda Wibben's Asian Elephant Report
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Amanda Wibben's Asian Elephant Report
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Asian elephants are very unique animals. Just looking at them is amazing. These elephants have an interesting habitat, look incredible, and have astonishing adaptations. Sadly, these beautiful animals are going extinct, but scientists are still conducting research on them to find out more about them. Even stories about this elephant are mind-blowing. 

The scientific name for the Asian elephant is Elephus maximus, meaning the largest elephant. The kingdom of the Asian elephant is Animalia. Its phylum is Chordata followed by its class, Mammalia. The order of the Asian elephant is Proboscidea, and its family is Elephantidea.  Elephus maximus is the genus and species (Anonymous 2012a, 1).

Asian elephants have evolved from the same roots as the mammoth (McKenzie 2001, 2). Today, it is most closely related to manatees, hydraxes, and rhinoceroses. There used to be about 150 species of elephants, however only two still exist today (Klappenbach 2012, 3). 

The Asian elephant could previously be found in a wide variety of areas all over the Himalayas, Southeast Asia, and China, though today they are only living in parts of India, Thailand, Laos, Burma, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Sumatra, Vietnam, and northern Borneo. Their habitats are usually on the edge of jungles which contain grasses and shrubs to provide food. Plus, because of their needs for large amounts of water all the time, Asian elephants must live near a freshwater source (Anonymous 2012c, 2). 

Asian elephants are huge, rough-skinned, grey animals. They can be anywhere from eight to ten feet tall, however, they are still smaller than the African elephant. They weight between 6000-11000 pounds, females being smaller and lighter. Asian elephants live to be around 60 or 70 years old (Anonymous 2012a, 2). These elephants walk on four short, thick legs with large, padded feet to enable them to walk nearly silently. They also have long trunks which are used like a finger to hold, lift, and grab things. Their trunks are unlike any other mammal (Anonymous 2011a, 1). Female Asian elephants do not have tusks, and only a few male elephants have them. Also, Asian elephants have a rounded back and a flat forehead, plus their ears are smaller than the African elephant (Anonymous 2012d, 1). Young Asian elephants are covered in a redish layer of hair (Klappenbach 2012, 1). Most of these elephants have five toes on their front feet and four on their back feet. The number of ribs in each elephant varies, but they never have more than twenty (Anonymous 2012b, 4).

The Asian elephant has many unique adaptations. They are herbivores, so they eat grasses, plants, twigs, bark, and leaves (Anonymous 2012d, 2). However, they prefer cultivated crops, such as sugarcane, rice, and bananas (Anonymous 2011b, 3). Because of how large they are, Asian elephants need to eat around 330 pounds of food everyday, so they spend about eighteen hours a day looking for food (Anonymous 2012d, 2). Asian elephants are very large, but they are able to walk almost silently because of padding on the bottoms of their feet (Anonymous 2011a, 1).

Asian elephants grow to full size after about seventeen years. They may reach sexual maturity within only nine years though, however, these elephants do not usually become sexually active until after about fourteen years (Anonymous 2011b, 2). Baby male elephants and female elephants of all ages form herds. Each herd is led by the oldest and largest female, called the matrairch, who is in charge of the herd. She also determines where to go to find food and water. Clans are formed when herds join together. Males over thirteen years form their own separate heard (Anonymous 2011a, 3).

For Asian elephants, there is no reproductive season. Older, larger males find herds where they mate with a female. Often, they have to compete with other males for fertile females. Males determine a females fertility by smelling her genitals (Anonymous 2012c, 4). Female Asian elephants are pregnant for about a year and a half (18-22 months), and they can only give birth every three to four years (Klappenbach 2012, 2). Newborn Asian elephants are about 250 pounds and around three feet tall. They can walk, see, and smell shortly after they are born. Mothers nurse their children for approximately eighteen months, but the babies start to eat grass after only a few months. Younger females, called allomothers, help to take care of newborns. Baby male elephants stay with their mothers herd for a few years before going off on their own or joining an all male herd. Females usually stay with their original herd (Anonymous 2012c, 4). 

Asian elephants have structural and physiological adaptations that allow them to survive. Elephants have a large structure called a trunk. It is used like a hand to lift, hold, and reach for things. A single "finger" extends from the tip of the trunk. It helps to hold things just as a human finger would (Anonymous 2012b, 6). An elephant's trunk is muscular enough to tear down tree limbs and pick up objects. Plus, it can be use to scoop food or water into an elephant's mouth or spray dirt or water onto its back. The Asian elephant also has large ears that constantly move up and down to create wind and cool the elephant's body (Anonymous 2011a, 1). Some Asian elephants have ivory tusks that can be used to uproot trees (Anonymous 2012a, 3). Another adaptation Asian elephants possess is having large, padded feet that allow them to walk quietly to avoid alerting predators (Anonymous 2011a, 1). Although they only have four molars, these elephants have very unique teeth. The teeth wear away quickly from being used so much, but the Asian elephant's teeth can be replaced seven times throughout their lives. However, if an elephant wears away all its sets of teeth, then it will starve to death (Anonymous 2012c, 3). Asian elephants have also been said to have excellent vision, hearing, and smelling, as well as being good swimmers (Anonymous 2011b, 2).

Unfortunately, Asian elephants are on the list of endangered species. This has a lot to do with humans destroying their habitats. People are constantly clearing away land for farming and deforestation, taking away from the elephants food sources. Many elephants die of starvation because of this. Another reason Asian elephants are going extinct is because of poaching. Though it is illegal, these elephants are killed for their tusks which sell for a lot of money (Cridland 2012, 1). In fact, earlier this year, in January, there was a report on wild elephant poaching in west Thailand at the country’s largest national park, Kaeng Krachan National Park. After a long investigation, wildlife officers were arrested and twenty-six elephants were removed from the park for protection from any other poachers (Sims 2012, 1).

Research on Asian elephants is popular. Recent studies have supported that elephants are very intelligent. In one experiment, Asian elephants were tested to see how well they could problem solve. The elephants were placed in an enclosed location with sticks and other objects that could be used to obtain food above the elephants reach. In the first experiment, food was placed in reach of the elephants trunk. Each elephant had a twenty minute session to get food, and they all succeeded. In the next experiment, food was placed just out of reach of the elephants, but sticks and cube-like movable structures were provided. These objects could be used to get the food. Twenty-six females were tested. They all showed interest in the food by reaching for it, but none of them used the sticks or cubes to try to reach the food. After this, experimentation with the females was discontinued. Later, nine males were tested in the same way. In the first two sessions, an elephant, named Kandula, showed interest in the food. He even managed to move the cube and stand on it, however, he never moved it near the food. Five minutes into the seventh session, Kandula moved the cube to a high branch and successfully pulled down the formerly out of reach food. Two minutes into the eighth session, he moved the cube to obtain food. In this session, he stood on the cube to get food or observe something nine times. This experiment proved elephants possess problem solving skills (Foerder 2011, 3).

In another experiment, Asian elephants were shown to have skills of teamwork and cooperation. Two bowls of corn were placed on a sliding table on one side of a volleyball net. A rope was tied to the table so that an elephant had to pull on each end of the rope in order to make the table move, otherwise the rope would just unravel. Once the elephants realized that they had to work together to get the food, they had no trouble obtaining it. In fact, one elephant, named Neua Un, even outsmarted the researchers and the other elephant. She figured out that by standing on her end of the rope, she could get her partner to do all the work. It is now said that elephants are on the same intelligence level as chimpanzees and dolphins (Viegas 2011, 3).

Research on the Asian elephant's dorsal extension, or the "finger" that extends from the elephant's trunk, has shown what makes it so precise and maneuverable. Free nerve endings are abundant in the finger, and it is covered in tiny, sensitive hairs that do not protrude. Because of this, the dorsal extension can pick up a single grain of rice or recognize vibrations of hooves or feet when placed on the ground (Rasmussen 1996, 1).

Tuberculosis in elephants is becoming another common topic of research on Asian elephants. Studies and experimentation are being done to find out the cause of this. Up to now, all scientist know is that the elephants probably get tuberculosis from being exposed to airborne bacteria over a long period of time. Some elephants with tuberculosis have been misdiagnosed because the symptoms are very similar to a cold. However, most of these elephant are being treated, and although this strand of tuberculosis can possibly show up in humans, there has not been any cases of elephant transferred tuberculosis reported (Schmitt 2012, 1). 

Throughout time, stories and sayings about elephants have been common. There is metaphor commonly used today about having an elephant's memory, meaning you have a good memory. Many people believe that because elephants are so large, they have bigger brains and can therefore remember things better. This has been shown to be true. In fact, one researcher even saw an elephant recognize its mother after twenty-three years of being apart (Anonymous 2012e, 1).

A legend, popular in Africa, tells about an elephant graveyard. It is said that thousands of elephants knew they were going to die, so they all traveled this spot as their final destination. Although the elephant graveyard has never been found, it has been shown that elephants today become emotional when they see other elephant remains. When an elephant skull and other animal skulls are placed in front of an elephant, it shows no interest in the other skulls, only the elephant's. Some elephants even become agitated or angry at the sight of their dead relatives (Ploeg 2012, 1).

Another legend, in the story of Buddha, white elephants were known to posses fertility and knowledge. They were also supposed to have sacred powers. Kings kept white elephants in palaces and spoiled them. They believed that if their white elephants died, their kingdoms would be destroyed and they would have bad fate. Surprisingly, this did happen. After the Burmese king's white elephant died, his kingdom was taken over by the British. When the Lao king's white elephant died, the kingdom was taken over by communists (Anonymous 2007, 1).

The Asian elephant is a breathtaking animal. Physically, it is unbelievable, and mentally, it is nearly a genius. All throughout history, elephants have been sacred because there is no other animal at all similar to the stunning Asian elephant. But we are still letting this phenomenal creature go extinct. If we let Asian elephants die out, soon we will watch the other species of elephants slip away too. And it might not stop there. Soon enough, all our favorite animals could be gone. So where do we draw the line? Before or after the Asian elephant is gone?
Bibliography:
asian-elephant.htm 

2. Anonymous 2012 B. "Differences Between African and Asian Elephants."
http://www.eleaid.com/index.php?page=differencesbetweenafricanandasianelephants  

3. Anonymous 2012 C. "Asian Elephants." 
http://www.elephantconservation.org/elephants/asian-elephants/   
 
4. Anonymous 2012 D. "Areas Where Listed As Endangered."
http://www.earthsendangered.com/profile.asp?gr=&view=c&ID=3&sp=143    

5. Anonymous 2012 E. "An Elephant Never Forgets."
http://animal.discovery.com/tv/a-list/creature-countdowns/myths/myths.html  

6. Anonymous 2011 A. "Asian Elephants."
http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/AsianElephants/factasianelephant.cfm  

7. Anonymous 2011 B. "Asian Elephants."
http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/elephants/asian_elephants/   

8. Anonymous 2007. "The Legend of the White Elephant." 
http://bisean.blogspot.com/2007/09/legend-of-white-elephant.html   

9. Cridland 2012. "Why is the Asian Elephant Endangered?" 
http://ezinearticles.com/?Why-is-the-Asian-Elephant-Endangered?&id=4098757  

10. Foerder 2011. "Insightful Problem Solving in an Asian Elephant."
http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0023251  

11. Klappenbach 2012. "Asian Elephant."
http://animals.about.com/od/elephants/p/asian-elephant.htm   

12. McKenzie 2001. "Elephant Evolution."
http://elephant.elehost.com/About_Elephants/Stories/Evolution/evolution.html  

13. Ploeg 2012. "Legend of the Elephant Graveyard May Be True."
http://www.ufodigest.com/graveyard.html  

14. Rasmussen 1996. "The Sensorineural Specializations of the Trunk Tip (Finger) of the 
Asian Elephant."  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/(SICI)1097-0185(199609)246:
1%3C127::AID-AR14%3E3.0.CO;2-R/pdf
 

15. Schmitt 2012. "Screening and Testing for Tuberculosis in Elephants."
 http://www.elephantcenter.com/Tuberculosis_In_Elephants.aspx   

16. Sims 2012. "The Dark Side of the Elephant Business." 
http://lifeasahuman.com/2012/feature/the-dark-side-of-the-elephant-business/  
 
17. Viegas 2011. "Elephants Outwit Humans During Intelligence Test."
http://news.discovery.com/animals/elephants-intelligence-test-110307.html   
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