Elephant and ecology

The status of the elephant is a good indicator of the health of the habitat. A habitat, which is good for elephants, is also good not only for its associate species like sambar and cheetal, but also for the predators like panthers and tigers. The habitat will also have to be flora rich to support animal biodiversity. When the forest is good for all these animals, the eco-system is in good condition, which means the water regime is right and so also the conditions of the soil.

Because the elephant requires a much larger home range than any other terrestrial animal, it is usually one of the first species to suffer the consequences of habitat fragmentation and destruction.

The daily routine of an elephant is fairly straightforward. It will spend almost two-thirds of its time on feeding.  It is estimated that elephants consume between 135 to 200 kgs.  of fresh fodder every single day. It is a tough life, being a herbivore. Food quality (nutrients and palatability) varies with seasons and components of the plant material such as cellulose are difficult to digest. They absorb only 50% or less of the nutrients from the food they consume. Hence the long hours spent on bulk feeding.

The elephants and their family life

Elephants live in a matriarchal society where the oldest female is the leader. Elephant populations are composed of several clans and solitary males. Clans are groups of elephants that may be related to each other. These family units comprising of adult females and their dependant offspring are seldom seen apart from each other, where males leave their natal families after attaining puberty and then lead more or less solitary lives.

Of all the domestic animals, the elephant is the only one that still continues to be taken from the wild to serve man. It has the ability to learn quickly. Its chief qualities are obedience, gentleness and patience and even under circumstances of greatest discomfort such as exposure to the sun or painful surgical operations, it seldom evinces excessive irritation.


Fragmentation of habitat, loss of traditional corridor (route) between different habitats, and poaching are the main threats to the survival of the elephant. One way or the other, conflicts will continue so long as we fail to protect and manage elephant habitats and populations. Saving the elephant is going to take a lot of effort and the question likely to be asked is: “Why to save elephants at all?” Ajay Desai, a biologist making a fervent plea for the protection of the gentle giants and their forest home, states that “apart from all the ecological reasons, I believe we have a moral duty to an animal that has served man for over 4000 years. It has served kings and beggars with equal dignity. It has stood with us in our holiest temples and in our bloodiest battles; from entertaining the tiniest tots to executing hardened criminals; it has done all we have asked of it. We have joked about it and yet worshipped it; it has brought love and joy to the lives of humans”.

Elephants have always been so much a part of India’s myths, history and cultural heritage that protecting and ensuring the survival of this animal means much more to an Indian than protecting another endangered species.  It is more like protecting a magnificent presence that has come to symbolize India.


  1. Project Elephant – Report.
  2. The Indian Elephant – Ajay Desai.
  3. Sanga Ilakkiyangalil Vilangina Vilakkam – P. L. Sami 4. Elephant – The Lady Boss – C.H. Basappanavar.
  4. Elephants, Economics & Ivory – Edward B. Berlier, Joanne C. Burgess, Timothy M. Swanson, David W. Pearce.
  5. A Week with Elephants – edited by J. C. Daniel & Hemart Datye.
  6. A Wild Elephant at Camp – Anupama Mohorkar – Helmut Wolf.
  7. The Asian Elephant – A Natural History – J.C. Daniel.

Jayanthi Rengun
Blue Cross of India

Source: Eco News, Vol.9, No.1 (April – June), 2003.

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