Species in Focus – Asian Elephant


An enlightened divinity radiates through the numerous wrinkles that score the skin of an elephant. It is the pursuit of these keepers of the jungle kingdom that reminds you how small you are. Their trunks and tusks bless all that they survey, full of a magic that wrings awe from your hearts.

Tigers and lions might be powerful, but elephants are the true gods of the wild.

Fine-art Portrait of Asian Elephant.
Elephant Head-on

Those familiar with me and my work will know my fascination for this pachyderm. I have found myself spending countless hours studying this magnificent animal. There is just something different about this wondrous creature. One can feel adrenalin pumping through their veins when in an elephant’s presence.

There are many reasons I admire the elephant. There is a gentle astuteness in this animal, carved into its creased body. Its amber eyes, probing trunk, imposing forehead—all hugely evocative for me. 

I began to see the elephant’s body as its own landscape and thus photographed it as such. This has culminated in my project “Elephantscapes“, an endeavour that I am extremely proud of. Take a look below.

One will be surprised that elephants, in spite of their enormity, can be stealthy creatures. They employ dexterity beyond the leagues of human ability. I have been startled by elephants many times in the field (and luckily lived to tell the tale).

Elephant Fine Art photography. Shot by Ishan Shanavas

At face value, the elephant is a bizarre creature. It doesn’t quite resemble other animals and possesses capabilities that will leave you astounded. Their vast memory allows them to travel great distances, sometimes traversing entire states in search of feeding grounds. During summers, they dig up holes to tap into underground water sources. 

The eye of an elephant is a characteristic that merits its own paragraph. Amber, with a black dot in the middle, it seems to hold all the wisdom in the world. Every time I stare into one, I see a gentle gleam of emotion looking back at me. Elephants are sentient creatures, and I derive much meaning from their eye movements.

Every year, I undertake a road trip from Bangalore to Kerala, which takes me through Bandipur Tiger Reserve. This forest abounds with elephants and is one of my absolute favourite places to be (Read about the work I did there) I’d spend every drive through the forest scanning the undergrowth for arched backs and domed foreheads. 

Some articles featuring the Asian elephant.

In Asian elephants, only males have tusks, with some females owning small dental protrusions called tushes. But sometimes, due to a quirk of biology, tusk-less males come about, who are locally called makhnas. This is in contrast to African elephants, where both sexes have tusks.

There’s a beautiful mystery that resonates around an old bull elephant that evokes a sense of calmness. His wisdom can be felt and anyone in his presence, knows that he commands not just silence but also the trees around him, the earth he walks on and the skies above

Shaaz Jung

Reams of books have been written on this magnificent animal. Here I link to some of my favourites.

The scientific name of the Asian elephant, Elphas maximus, is curious, for it leads one to believe that this is the largest elephant in the world. But the largest elephant in the world is the African Savannah elephant (Loxodonta africana), which can reach up to 6 tonnes. But even at 2nd place, it is a behemoth.

It is also interesting to note that the Asian and African elephants do not belong to the same genus as one would believe. They differ on many accounts, like trunk lips, toenail numbers, tusks, ear and body structure and more. So genetically, they are more different than lions and tigers.

Asian elephants can eat up to 240 kgs a day, implying that they need vast forest tracts to survive. In a world of fragmented forests, this animal finds it hard to persevere. We need them because they transport seeds over vast distances, ensuring the health and continuity of the forest.

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Fact File

Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus)

  • Age: 60-70 years
  • Weight: 3,200-5,400 kg
  • Length: 245-275 cm (at shoulder)
  • Found in Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and few other neighbouring countries.
  • Conservation Status: Endangered

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Published by Ishan Shanavas

I am a young adult, interested in nature, photography, art and culture. An aspiring polymath, I share my learnings through my blog. I also include insights from my favourite books.

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