Comparison between Asian and African Elephants


African and Asian elephants are two species of elephant that belong to different genera due to numerous differences that exist between these two huge mammals. As their name suggests, African and Asian elephants can be found in Africa and Asia. Both species are social animals that live in large herds made of genetically related females and their offspring. African elephants are elephants of the genus Loxodonta. The genus consists of two extant species: the African bush elephant, L. africana, and the smaller African forest elephant, L. cyclotis. The Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), also called Asiatic elephant, is the only living species of the genus Elephas and three subspecies are recognised—E. m. maximus from Sri Lanka, E. m. indicus from mainland Asia and E. m. sumatranusfrom the island of Sumatra. African and Asian elephants are very popular circus animals because of their large size, intelligence and ability to perform various tricks. Both types of elephants are large, grey in color and equipped with a long trunk.


Asian Elephant African Elephant

African elephants are found in Sub-Saharan Africa including Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia, and Angola. While they primarily inhabit plains and grasslands, they can also be found in woodlands, dense forests, mountain slopes, oceanic beaches, and semi-arid deserts. They range from low level altitudes to high mountains. Asian elephants inhabit grasslands, tropical evergreen forests, semi-evergreen forests, moist deciduous forests, dry deciduous forests and dry thorn forests, in addition to cultivated and secondary forests and scrublands. Both African and Asian elephants are herbivores, but they prefer different types of plants. The diet of African elephants are based on leaves, while Asian elephants usually consume grass.



Physical differences



African Elephant

Asian Elephant


4000 – 7000 kg

3000 – 6000 kg

Shoulder height

3 – 4 Meter

2 – 3.5 Meter


More wrinkled


Number of ribs

Up to 21 pairs

Up to 20 pairs

Highest point

On the shoulder

On the back

Size of the ears

Bigger, reach over the


Smaller, do not reach over the


Shape of the belly

Diagonally downward in the

direction of the hind legs

Either almost straight or

sagging in the middle

Shape of the head

Not crumpled from the front to the back, no humped structures, no dent

Crumpled from the front to the back, with humped structures on the top of the head,

forehead dented


Lamella profile of the molars


Lamella profile of the molars

strongly compressed


Existing with both sexes. Bigger with the males

Males in many cases having

tusks. Females having only rudimentary or no tusks

Lower lip

short and round

long and taper


With more rings, less hard

With less rings, harder

Trunk end

With two fingers

With one finger


Foreleg 4 or rarely 5 / Hind leg 3 or rarely 4

Foreleg 5 / Hind leg 4 or rarely 5


African elephants are much bigger than the Asian elephant. It can reach up to 15,400 pounds of weight, while the maximum weight of Asian elephants are 13,200 pounds. African elephants have large ears, shaped much like the continent of Africa itself. The larger surface area of their ears helps to keep African elephants cool in the blazing African sun. Asian elephants have less to worry about heat-wise, as they tend to live in cool jungle areas, so their ears are smaller. There's another thing that sets them apart: Only male Asian elephants grow tusks and even then, not all males will have them. In African elephants, both sexes generally (but not always) exhibit tusks.

African elephants utilize their long trunks and four large molars to break down and consume a large bulk of plants, shrubs, twigs, and branches. In particular, they use their trunks to strip leaves, break branches, dismantle tree bark, unearth roots, drink water, and even bathe. Without their trunks, these elephants would find their everyday routine of bathing, drinking, and eating considerably more difficult. Their molars, aiding in the consumption and digestion process, measures nearly 10 cm wide and 30 cm long, gradually withering away until the age of 15. Asian elephant’s tusks serve to dig for water, salt, and rocks, to debark and uproot trees, as levers for maneuvering fallen trees and branches, for work, for display, for marking trees, as a weapon for offense and defense, as trunk-rests, and as a protection for the trunk.

They cannot interbreed and produce healthy offspring due to significant differences in genetic code. The genetic differences however are so great that they actually cannot be interbred.  The only known crossbreed between an African and an Asian elephant was born in Chester Zoo in 1978. The bull calf, Motty, died, despite intensive nursing care, two weeks after its birth. Its father was the African bull, Jumbolino, and its mother the Asian elephant cow, Sheba. The two major types of African elephants are about as genetically distinct from each other as the Asian elephant is from the extinct woolly mammoth. 

The population of the African bush elephants continues to gradually decrease because of hunting, habitat fragmentation, etc. It has been reported that their current rate of decline is eight percent per year, mostly due to poaching. In most parts of the world this species is labeled as an endangered species. Since 2004, the IUCN Red List considered the elephants to be a vulnerable species. On average scale there is a decline of 200,000 elephants based on the sudden increase of human populations occupying their habitats. Estimates show the entire species could possibly go extinct in a decade. Areas found in Gabon and Congo are considered to contain the largest number of the African bush elephant, while in parts of Central African Republic, the species is entirely wiped out. The IUCN monitors the elephant's population regularly to understand what conservation methods are effective. The decline is beginning to show greatly across various countries.


The pre-eminent threats to Asian elephants today are loss, degradation and fragmentation of habitat, leading in turn to increasing conflicts between humans and elephants. They are poached for ivory and a variety of other products including meat and leather.