Nature Field Note

India’s Wild Elephants


Abstract: What’s your favorite animal? One of my favorites is the elephant. India has between 20,000 and 25,000 wild elephants living in their natural habitat. There are also many living in captivity in this country. Read on to find out more about these magnificent creatures.


You’ve probably seen elephants in a zoo, but did you know that in India, there are wild elephants? When I was at a national park called Periyar Reserve several weeks ago, I got to see a wild elephant mom and her baby in the middle of a forest! Our guide told us to be very quiet in order to not disturb the elephants. He also said that if we made too much commotion, we risked having them charge us! I think that seeing wild elephants has been one of my favorite experiences in India so far.

What does this creature or plant look like?

Asian elephants, like the one I saw, are smaller than African elephants. Asian elephants are the type that live in India. They have smaller ears than African elephants. It may be interesting for you to research the difference between these two types of the same creature!

Asian elephants can stand between 6 and 11 feet tall at the shoulder and weigh up to five tons! Like all elephants, they use their large trunk to pluck food and bring it to their mouth. Have you ever had the chance to touch an elephant? An elephant’s skin is rough to the touch and has lots of small hairs covering the entire body.

How did I feel when I saw it?

A mom and baby elephant in the wild!

When I saw the wild elephants in the national park, I could not believe that they were truly wild. Previously, I had only ever seen elephants in captivity. My first thought was “Oh, this is so awesome to see!” However, my second thought was “Am I too close? Are they going to charge me?” Seeing an animal in the wild is very different than seeing it in a zoo!

Our tour guide told us to be very quiet and to crouch down so that they would not see us, but we could still see them. As we watched them munch on the leaves of trees and shrubs, I could not help but feel honored that I got to witness such a unique and special sight in nature. 

Where does it live?

In India, elephants are most common in the south and northeast regions of the country. These places are their natural habitats. The elephants live in tropical and sub-tropical forest, dry forest, and grassland. While wandering during the day time, an elephant can cover up to 125 miles! So, they may travel from one habitat to another within one or two days!

Outside of India, Asian elephants live in ten other countries, including Indonesia and Thailand. Domesticated elephants in India can be found in temples or on the streets. 

How does it use its environment to survive?

In the Periyar Reserve

Though elephants may roam far during the day, they always stay near a source of water. This is because they need to drink at least once a day. Their food mostly consists of various grasses, but they also eat large amounts of tree bark, roots, and small stems . Wild elephants will also eat cultivated crops such as banana, rice and sugarcane. They may spend up to 19 hours per day eating! That’s almost all day long! Could you eat for 19 hours a day? As they wander, the seeds in their dung are spread throughout a large area and are able to root, sprout, and grow into new plants.

What can harm this creature? Are we worried about it?

Asian elephants are endangered. This means that they face a high risk of becoming extinct. The greatest threat to wild elephants is habitat loss. More and more people are being born every day and taking up land to live on. Thus, there are many conflicts between humans and elephants. They need the same land to support themselves.

Also, rural farmers run into problems with elephants. Small farmers can lose their entire livelihood from the damage that one elephant can do to their crops. Remember, elephants eat a lot! After an elephant destroys the crops, the elephant is often hunted down and killed. Furthermore, Asian elephants are often killed for their ivory tusks. These tusks are typically sold into the illegal wildlife trade. Thus, humans are the biggest threat to wild elephant populations.

However, there have been numerous efforts to save and protect wild elephants. The Periyar Reserve, where I saw the mom elephant and her baby, is the largest national park in southern India. In Periyar Reserve, elephants can live their lives in nature and not worry about human influence. There are about 700 elephants that live in the national park. The World Wildlife Fund, an organization that promotes conservation of endangered species, is also actively involved in saving the wild elephants of India.


We got to ride an elephant!

A domesticated elephant

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