The Sumatran Elephant
is the smallest elephant on earth and is one of the subspecies of the Asian
elephant. It is found in a very limited
area in the island of Sumatra. They have a relatively compact structure,
compared to its other fellow subspecies, and is undergoing a high decrease in
population especially because of poachers that hunt them and sell their tusks
on the illegal ivory market, as also use their skin for leather.
Size: The head to body length is between 5.5 and 6.4 m.
Weight: They are
relatively lighter than the other subspecies, weighing around 2,000 to 4,000 kg
(4,400 to 8,800 lb).
stand at 2 to 3.2 m (6.6 and 10.5 feet) at the shoulders.
Skin: The coarse,
wrinkled, rough and dry skin of this elephant is grey, brown, or black in color.
Eyes: The eyes
are small and black, with a very poor vision.
Trunk: The tip of
the trunk has a single finger-like process.
Tail: The tail is
thin, hanging down to almost their knees, with a tuft of black hair at the tip.
elephants typically have smaller tusks compared to their Indian or Sri Lankan
counterparts. The tusks typically grow in the cows (males), though very rarely
small tusks have been seen in the cows (females). This is their only sexual dimorphism.
Sumatran elephants normally live for 60 to 70 years in the
wild. The recorded maximum lifespan of the mammal is 86 years in captivity.
Range/Distribution & Habitat: Where do Sumatran
As their name suggests, this subspecies is found only in the
dense rainforests and tropical woodlands in the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
These elephants are highly intelligent and are extremely
sociable animals. They live and wander in groups of related females and their
calves, which is led by the oldest female member known as the ‘matriarch’.
Each group comprises of six to seven individuals in an average, but can be anything between five and
twenty. They seldom join other elephant groups to form herds. However, these groups
are relatively more transient than the groups formed by the African elephants.
The leader of the group is responsible for leading its
members to places abundant in food and water. They form very strong bonds with
each other. During the summer’s hottest
hours, especially during the day, they are less active and spend time in the shady
areas of the forest.
Like other elephant species, they would also bathe
frequently and keep themselves submerged in water to cool down. This is the reason why these elephants are
mostly seen living close to permanent water bodies.
Like other elephants, they are good swimmers and mountain climbers but are not able to jump because of
the structure of their feet. They communicate with each other with the help of
calls/sounds (called ‘trumpets’), visual, tactile, acoustic, and chemical
signals, as well as touch.
Diet: What Do Sumatran Elephants Eat
Like other elephant species, they are strictly herbivores
(or more specifically, folivores), living on plant matters like leaves, bark,
stems, seeds, roots, tubers, wood, grains, nuts, flowers, and fruits.
Mating & Reproduction
Male elephants are found in larger groups when they are
trying to find a mate and copulate with a female. During the mating season, the
secretion and the resultant levels of testosterone and several other hormones
in the males get elevated. This condition is called ‘musth’ that lasts for
almost a couple of weeks.
During this time, the males become quite aggressive,
incessantly searching for a female to mate. During this time they engage in
fights with other competing males, often resulting in death, or even rampage and
massacre in surrounding human habitats.
After mating, the males usually leave the group, while the
impregnated female continue to leave with its herd until its calf is born.
Life Cycle of the Baby Sumatran Elephant
After birth, the newborn baby takes around 10 to 30 minutes to
be able to stand up on its own. The adult elephants show a strong bond with the
infants within the group and exhibit very
affectionate behavior towards them – for both the male and the female baby
The young juveniles are frequently seen frolicking and
playing with other calves, as they trot behind their mothers holding them by
The Sumatran elephant mothers are specifically possessive
and highly protective towards their babies,
and are even ready to put down their lives to keep their offspring safe from
The male calves normally leave their natal group by the time
they are around six to seven years old, or until they attain sexual maturity.
As puberty arrives, the males become mostly solitary or live in small groups with other
males with loose social bonds. The female calves continue to leave with its
The trunk of a Sumatran
Elephant contains more than 60,000 muscles which give them one of the strongest tusks among all the elephant
In order to stay cool, they have the habit of spraying saliva
on themselves when there is a scarcity of
The elephants flap their large,
flat ears to get rid of excess heat since there is a positive correlation
between the temperature of the environment and the frequency of ear
As a behavioral
adaptation, the calves are normally kept
towards the center of a group, which provides
protection from predators.
Predators & Enemies
Adult elephants are too large, heavy and dangerous (because
of their strong tusks) for the predators to attack. However, Bengal tigers have
been seen attacking the calves.
Population: How many Sumatran Elephants are Left in the Wild
The number of these elephants has declined by at least 80%
over the last three generations. The current population of this subspecies is
estimated at 2,400 to 2,800 in the wild, spread across the island in 25
The IUCN 3.1 has enlisted the Sumatran elephant as ‘CR’ or Critically
The birth of the baby
elephant takes only 10 seconds in an average.
They can run at speeds as
high as 43kmph (27mph).
The death rate of the
males is higher than the female since a large part of their population
dies during male to male fights, as well as get hunted by poachers for
Sumatran elephants can
consume up to 150 kg of food and 200 liters of water per day.