Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) are native throughout Asia, from India to Borneo. Slightly smaller than African elephants, a bull Asian elephant can reach 12,000 pounds when fully grown. They live in grasslands and tropical forests, feeding on legumes, palms and grasses.

Asian elephants have traditionally been trained for use in harvesting timber and other agricultural activities and for transport, including in warfare.  Like African elephants, Asian elephants have for centuries been hunted for their tusks as a canvas for the art of ivory carving and jewelry making.  The demand for ivory led to devastating declines in the number of these giant animals, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s.  One of the greatest current threats to Asian elephants is habitat loss as human populations increase and grasslands and forests are converted to agricultural and other uses. 

Laws & Regulations

The Asian elephant was first listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species in Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1975. U.S. regulations implementing CITES can be found at 50 CFR 23.  The Asian elephant was listed as Endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1976. Because of their status under CITES and the ESA, commercial trade in Asian elephants and their parts and products is prohibited.


Credit: USFWS

Through the Asian Elephant Conservation Act, passed in 1997 by the U.S. Congress, the United States committed to enhancing the protection of at-risk elephant populations, conserving the habitat and ecosystem of wild herds, and increasing research on elephant populations and habitat including surveys and monitoring . As a result of this legislation, the Asian Elephant Conservation Fund was established and Congress has appropriated millions of dollars to the fund since its creation.

CITES Systems
CITES has established the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) to track illegal trade by maintaining a record of seizures of elephant specimens, along with a system called Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) to measure levels and trends in illegal killing of elephants.