The Different Species of Elephants

Elephants have had an integral connection with humans from thousands of years back. In many cultures and countries, they have been an integral part of history, mythology, art, sculpture, music and folklore, used for transport, entertainment, sports, and agriculture.

From Asia to Africa, the elephant dominant regions of the world, they have been respected, but unfortunately, severely tortured for their much valued tusks. In Asia, the elephant has been revered as the deity Ganesha, symbolizing wisdom, as well as feared for their strength. The rare white elephant was considered sacred and royal in Thailand and Burma. In African fables, the elephant is recognized as the impartial wise chief who settles disputes among forest creatures. In Sri Lanka, they are brightly decorated to lead festive processions such as the Esala Perahera.

Broadly speaking, elephants are classified as African (Loxodonta) and Asian elephants (Elephas) since they primarily come from these two continents. To understand the significance of these majestic creatures and the differences between the breeds, it helps to know a bit more about the different types of elephants.

African Elephants

African elephants are the largest terrestrial elephants on Earth and considered highly intelligent. There are far more varieties of elephants than most of us are aware of. In 1942, for instance, the African elephants were subdivided into 18 different subspecies. However, only two subspecies, the bush elephant and the forest elephant, were genetically recognized. DNA studies later revealed that the two subspecies are distinctly different from each other. The wildlife bodies consider the bush and forest elephants as separate from each other too.


Bush Elephant: The bigger and more commonly found of the two is the African bush or savannah elephant. They can grow up to 13 feet tall at the shoulders and weigh as much as 10.4 tons. The ears are gigantic, used to radiate excess heat. The trunks and tusks are longer than all other subcategories. Within the African bush elephants are four different subspecies:

  • Southern Congo
  • Gabon
  • Malawi
  • South Africa
  • Botswana
  • Namibia
  • Zimbabwe
  • Mozambique
  • Zambia
  • Swaziland

Similarly the Southern African bush elephant and East African bush elephant are various subspecies each. Unfortunately, the North African bush elephant that was once native to the Sahara region is now believed to be extinct.


Forest Elephant: The African forest elephant wanders in the deep jungles of the Congo basin. They are said to have evolved separately from the bush elephants, about two to seven million years ago. They are darker, smaller with more rounded ears and longer, straighter tusks that sometimes reach to the ground. Unlike the bush elephants, the forest elephants have five toenails on the forefoot and four in the hindfoot. They have slower birth rate hence are less visible than the bush family.

Asian Elephants

Distributed across South Asian and South-East Asia, these elephants are larger than the African elephants in general and have a high pointed head, unlike the African elephant that have a twin-domed head with a dent in the middle. The back is levelled, ears are smaller and Asian females lack tusks. The males may or may not bear tusks too. Asian elephants can be classified into four distinct types:


    1. Sri Lankan elephants: The Sri Lankan elephant is the largest among the Asian species, weighing between 2,000-5,000 kgs. They are darker with depigmentation patches on their skin to make them more distinctive. Only a small percentage of males grow tusks. Since their population has shrunk over the years deforestation, they are considered endangered.
    2. Indian elephants: These elephants are considered endangered too as a result of poaching, habitat loss, human persecution and road or rail accidents. They weigh between 4,000 to 5,000 kg, is lighter hued than the Sri Lankan species but darker than the Sumatran. Females are smaller than the males and lack tusks.
    3. Sumatran elephants: Native to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, these elephants are between 2,000 to 4,000 kgs. They are critically endangered thanks to the same reasons as the Indian elephants.
    4. Borneo elephants: Seen across Borneo, Indonesia and Malaysia, these elephants are often called “pygmy” elephants, although there is no significant difference in size. They are more tame and passive than the other species.

Aliya Dung Paper: Support Us and Help Save the Elephants

Based in Sri Lanka, Aliya Dung Paper is manufactured at the Eco Maximus paper factory. We provide high-quality recycled paper and paper products made from pulp-rich elephant dung to help protect the dwindling Sri Lankan elephants, sustain and create jobs for the people who live there. We seek your support to help bring awareness to some of the struggles that these beautiful species of Asian elephants go through and join us to save them. Browse through our website to see the wide variety of environmentally friendly paper we offer.