Sri Lankan Elephant (Elephas maximus maximus) is a distinct subspecies of the Asian Elephant and is indigenous to the island. The Sri Lankan Elephant can be described as being smaller in size than the African Elephant yet it is the largest of the three Asian subspecies. It is has a shoulder height between 2 and 3.5 m (6.6 and 11.5 ft) and weighs between 2000 and 5500 kg, with a darker skin tone and greater de-pigmentation patches on its body. The females are distinctively smaller than the male with females having short or no tusks with about 2% of the male populations being tuskers. It is believed that the Sri Lankan Elephant with its distinct physical characteristics is better looking when compared with its Asian cousins, the Indian Elephant (Elephas maximus indicus) and the Sumatran Elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus).
The population of wild elephants in Sri Lanka is estimated to be just above 5,800 includes 122 tuskers (male elephants with tusks) and 1,107 calves. Typically each herd consists of 12-20 elephants led by the oldest female, sometimes lone elephants and temporary bachelor herds too can be witnessed. The average lifespan of the Sri Lankan Elephant is 50 – 70 years and being herbivores, they feed on a variety of vegetation such as shrubs, leaves, herbs, fruit, grass, roots and climbers, with an adult consuming about 300 pounds of vegetation on a single day.
Sri Lankan Elephants are mostly found in the dry zones, mainly in the North, South, East, North Western, North Central and South Eastern regions of the country. Nearly all the National Parks such as Yala, Wilpattu, Uda Walawe, Lunugamwehera, Minneriya, Gal Oya and Wasgamuwa are home to a great number of wild elephants in addition to others living outside these protected areas.
Fondly called ‘Gentle Giants’ the Sri Lankan Elephant has since 1986 been listed as an endangered species by IUCN as result of the gradual decline of the Elephant population in Sri Lanka by at least 50% during the past three decades. Sri Lankan Elephants have been closely associated with human beings for centuries. They have been used for ceremonial and religious occasions, for carrying people on their backs, have been active in warfare and for the transporting & hauling especially in massive construction projects.
Elephants are known to be very intelligent, have extremely good memories that span over years helping them recognize people they have been associated with and places they have been to before. They are also known to have a high emotional intelligence which display strong family bonds and demonstrate signs of sorrow, pain, happiness and anger.