Endangered Species of the Week: Sumatran Elephant

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Weighing in at approximately 5 tons, the Sumatran elephant is a sub-species of Asian elephant which includes the Indian elephant, the Sumatran elephant, the Sri-Lanka elephant and the Borneo elephant. The Sumatran elephant is extremely rare today, with estimates in 2000 putting Sumatran elephant numbers at just over 2,000 individuals.

As its name suggests, the Sumatran elephant is found exclusively on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. However, the Sumatran elephant population has severely declined as they have lost more than 80% of their natural habitat to deforestation for palm oil plantations.

“In 2012, the Sumatran elephant was changed from “Endangered” to “Critically Endangered” because half of its population has been lost in one generation—a decline that is largely due to habitat loss and as a result human-elephant conflict. Sumatra has experienced one of the highest rates of deforestation within the Asian elephant’s range, which has resulted in local extinctions of elephants in many areas. Over two-thirds of its natural lowland forest has been razed in the past 25 years and nearly 70 percent of the Sumatran elephant’s habitat has been destroyed in one generation.

In Sumatra’s Riau province, pulp and paper industries and oil palm plantations have caused some of the world’s most rapid rates of deforestation. Elephant numbers have declined by a staggering 80 percent in less than 25 years, confining some herds to small forest patches. These populations are not likely to survive in the long-term.”

 

Sumatran elephants feed on a variety of plants and deposit seeds wherever they go, contributing to a healthy forest ecosystem. They also share their lush forest habitat with several other endangered species, such as the Sumatran rhino, tiger, and orangutan, and countless other species that all benefit from an elephant population that thrives in a healthy habitat.

Sumatran elephants are herbivorous animals meaning that they only eat plants and plant matter in order to gain all of the nutrients that they need to survive. Sumatran elephants eat a wide variety of vegetation including grasses, leaves, shoots, barks, fruits, nuts and seeds. Sumatran elephants often use their long trunk to assist them in gathering food.

Due to their large size, Sumatran elephants have very few predators within their natural environment. Besides human hunters, Sumatran tigers are the primary predator of the Sumatran elephant, although they tend to hunt the smaller Sumatran elephant calves rather than the much larger and stronger adults.

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