Asian elephants are slightly smaller than African elephants and are distinguishable by their smaller ears, additional toenail on their hind feet and only one ‘finger’ on the upper lip of their trunks.
Only some males have tusks, and many females either do not have tusks or have instead small tusks that seldom show. They usually live in small groups led by a matriarch and have a live span of between 60 to 70 years.
While their range once covered over 9 million km2, Asian elephants are now only found in isolated populations in 13 states. The overall population has declined by at least 50% over the last three generations and there are probably fewer than 50,000 remaining in the wild.
Their status is Thailand is particularly dire with barely 1,500 urviving in the wild. The country’s largest population of wild elephants – a mere 600 or so individuals – inhabits a tract of protected forest along the Burma border, west of the infamous bridge over the River Kwai.
A quarter of these elephants inhabit a forest called Salakpra, where a hydro-electric reservoir, access roads and advancing human settlements have all but cut them off from the much larger Western Forest Conservation Complex due north where their comrades reside.