The History of The Asian Elephant

The History of The Asian Elephant

The Elephant that we find in Thailand and Asia is commonly known as the Asian Elephant. The ‘Asian Elephant’ has a counterpart in Africa known as the ‘African Elephant’ and these two species are what we have come to know as elephants. So how did these two species different from each other?  What makes the Asian Elephant so distinct? Let’s find out more.

The Asian Elephant

The Asian Elephant belongs to the genus Elephas, which is the same for the African Elephant as well. Elephas originated in Sub-Saharan Africa during the Pliocene era (around 5 million – 2.5 million years ago) and they spread across the continent. Slowly, the elephants began to leave Africa and spread to Southern and Eastern Asia. The Asian Elephant slowly evolved into a separate species from the African elephant over this time.

There are four sub-species of Asian Elephant. The Sri Lankan Elephant, which lives only in Sri Lanka; the Indian Elephant, which lives in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, China, Cambodia and Vietnam; The Sumatran Elephant, which lives only on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia; The Borneo Elephant, which lives on the island of Borneo in Indonesia, it is also referred to as the pygmy elephant due to its smaller size.

The elephants of Thailand might be classified as Indian Elephants but in reality, they do differ slightly from elephants in India. They are smaller, have shorter front legs, and a thicker body than their Indian counterparts. All Asian Elephants are completely different from African Elephants and one can easily tell this by their outward features.

African Elephants by average are much taller and heavier than Asian Elephants. An African Elephant has much bigger ears as well. If you look closely at the ears of both elephants, the African Elephant’s ears sort of resemble the shape of the African continent while the Indian elephant’s ears look a little bit like the country of India! Another thing that is very easy to notice is that all African Elephants, male and female, have tusks while only some male Asian Elephants have tusks. The trunk is a distinguishing factor with the Asian Elephant possessing a harder but less ringed trunk. The trunk tip also sports a major difference with the African Elephant possessing two distinct “fingers” while the Asian Elephant has only one finger. There are other subtler differences but with the ones we have mentioned, you can now easily tell the two species apart.

Elephants in Thailand

Elephants are a very important part of Thai society and culture. For a large part of Thai history, elephants were used as war mounts and draught animals, fighting in wars and doing heavy labour for Thai people. The rulers of Thailand have always encouraged a strong elephant cavalry to lead them into battle. A famous elephant duel took place between King Naresuan of Thailand and the Burmese Crown Prince Mingyi Swa that was won by King Naresuan, forever cementing the legacy of elephants in Thailand. Thai art and music features elephants and the Thai Royal Symbol is the white elephant.

In the past, elephants in Thailand were used as draught animals, mainly working in the logging industry. However, elephant labour was banned in the logging industry in 1989 and many of these domesticated elephants then found themselves in the tourism and entertainment industry. Elephants are not meant to work and carry people all day and while they had to work less in the entertainment industry, the mistreatment of the animals still took place. Finally, with better laws to protect the elephants, the treatment of these animals improved.

The Thai people love elephants and they believe these animals represent Thailand in many positive ways, which is why elephants are on the emblems of many major governments such as the city of Bangkok, Chiang Rai Province, Chiang Mai Province and many more. At the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, we want to promote ethical treatment of elephants and maintain sustainable practices for elephant ecotourism. Visitors can come to any of sanctuaries and enjoy the company of the elephants in a variety of ways, but we don’t allow anyone to ride the elephants or stop the elephants from doing what they want to do. Treat this beautiful and majestic animal with the respect and love it deserves and the Thai people will really appreciate it.

The Matriarch Project