Sumatran Elephant - Characteristics, Conservation and Feeding

Sumatran Elephant: find out what this animal is like, its physical characteristics, character, behavior, etc. Currently, two genera of elephants are recognized: Loxodonta, where...

Help the development of the site, sharing the article with friends!

Currently, two genera of elephants are recognized: Loxodonta, where the African elephants are found, and Elephas, which corresponds to the Asians. Within the latter, there are three subspecies, and one of them is the critically endangered Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus). This mega mammal has not only suffered the attacks to which all species of elephants have been exposed, but it is also under severe pressure from the deforestation of its habitat, which being an island, prevents it from being able to migrate.

In this issue of PlanèteAnimal, we now present the Sumatran elephant so that you can learn more about the main aspects that characterize this subspecies, as well as its ecological role within the ecosystem in which it is. The family Elephantidae is a group heavily impacted by human hand, so their hunting, keeping them in captivity and destroying habitats have destroyed the populations of these remarkable proboscideans.


  • Asia
  • Indonesia

Characteristics of the Sumatran Elephant

The criteria for defining a subspecies can be very subtle, which makes it difficult to establish it and even in some cases generates disagreements on the part of the scientific community. This is the case of the Borneo elephant, considered by some to be an Asian subspecies and named Elephas maximus borneensis, while for other scientists it is included in the Indian elephant or the Sumatran elephant. due to their similar characteristics.

However, in the case of the Sumatran elephant, this is not the case. Genetic studies, particularly of mitochondrial DNA, have shown this to be a well-defined subspecies that should be considered an evolutionarily significant unit.

This subspecies has the smallest size of the group, reaching on average just over 2 meters in height, and in terms of weight, it fluctuates between 2 and 4 tons. Females are generally smaller than males. In addition to weight, there are two quite distinctive traits that are present in the Sumatran elephant that differentiate it from the other two subspecies: one is that they have relatively larger ears ( although never at the level of the African) and the other consists of a pair of extra ribs.

Regarding their color, there are no very significant variations between the subspecies of elephants, however, that of Sumatra has a slightly less intense coloration.Regarding the tusks, they are present in males, while in females they are usually not, and if they have them, they are only visible when they open their mouths, as we explain in this other article on Do All Elephants Have Tusks?

Sumatran Elephant Habitat

The main habitat of this animal is lowland forests and hills, which are about 300 meters high. However, the Sumatran elephant can also be present in other types of ecosystems on the island. The aforementioned forests are mainly characterized by being tropical and rainy, as they provide an ideal environment for the development of these animals.

In the mid-eighties, this elephant inhabited virtually all provinces of the island of Sumatra, as the island still had more than half of its forests in good condition.However, deforestation for the seedlings of agricultural palms, combined with the intervention of the timber industry for the production of paper, has brought about a radical change in this area, considerably affecting the population of these mammals. This modification of the forests resulted in the extermination of more than 80% of the total population of the Sumatran elephant from its natural habitat.

Habits of the Sumatran Elephant

Like the rest of the Asian elephants, the Sumatran elephant generally roams large areas, although it always has a small preference for the same distribution area which, according to some studies, can vary between 200 and 1000 kilometers. They are animals that maintain a social structure composed mainly of females, one of them (the oldest) being the leader of the group. Normally, young males are dispersed by the adult male who is part of the herd.

They also tend to drink a lot of water, being able to ingest up to more than 100 liters per day, in the same way they like to take baths.A peculiar aspect of the habits of these animals is that they spend more than half of the day feeding. Life expectancy is between 60 and 70 years approximately. In the same way, they are used to following the same routes to move from one place to another, mainly to look for food.

Sumatran Elephant Feeding

They can consume up to 150 kg of wet weight per day of food, which is necessary to maintain their large body. They are generalist herbivores, so their diet consists of various parts of a wide variety of plants, such as seeds, leaves, shoots, bark and fruits, although they also eat small portions of land to include certain beneficial minerals for them.

Deforestation of Sumatra's forests directly affects food availability for these elephants, as it ends up killing all the plants they feed on.Also, when humans plant species for commercial purposes, elephants cannot consume them.

The dispersal of a great diversity of plants present in the forests where the Sumatran elephant lives is closely linked to the presence of this animal, since it is a great disperser of plants, so the extinction of the species would also have a terrible effect on the ecological dynamics of these ecosystems.

For more information, we encourage you to read this other article on What do elephants eat?

Reproduction of the Sumatran elephant

Females of this subspecies, although they can get pregnant earlier, usually do so around age 15. These are fertile throughout the year, so mating can take place at any time. Males mature sexually from the age of 10 and only approach the herd when they know a female is ready to breed, which they make known by sounds and cries.When the males detect it, there are usually fights for the privilege of mating with the female, who will eventually choose the winning male.

The gestation period lasts 22 months and only one baby is born, which, after a few hours, will be able to get up. Although she will breastfeed for several years, she will combine her diet with the consumption of plants. The care of the newborn will not only depend on the mother, but the other females will also participate in the process. On the other hand, they will wait several years before becoming pregnant again, and after 60 years, they will stop reproducing.

Sumatran elephant conservation status

The Sumatran elephant is critically endangered, and it is estimated that if conservation measures are not established appropriately and urgently, the species will disappear in the coming years. Elephants are hunted for their ivory tusks, which are used in making various objects, but they are also slaughtered for food and for their skins.In addition, these animals are captured in order to be domesticated and to be used in forced labor of the forestry type and for certain rituals.

Due to the exaggerated habitat loss of the Sumatran elephant, their conflict with humans has increased dramatically as they no longer have space to live. Despite all the conservation measures established for the protection of this subspecies in Indonesia, more than 80% of its habitats are outside protected areas.

In the case of the Sumatran elephant, it is clear how disrespectful humans are to nature and the species that make it up.

Sumatran Elephant Pictures

Help the development of the site, sharing the article with friends!