Although occupying exclusively tropical and subtropical zones, Asian elephants live in a wide range of habitats, including:

  • Wet evergreen forest
  • Montane evergreen forest and grassland
  • Semi-evergreen forest
  • Moist deciduous forest
  • Dry deciduous forest
  • Savanna (mixed woodland and grassland mosaic)
  • Bamboo forest
  • Dry scrub
  • Swampy floodplain grassland

They are essentially mixed feeders, so accessibility to a wide range of plants, and to water within one day’s walk, are essential prerequisites.

Estimates of natural animal density are hard to make. The carrying capacity will also vary with the environment. In general, an area of about 2mi2 (5km2) per animal is probably typical in the wild, although the figure may be as high as 7.7mi2 (20km2) in rainforest habitats.

Role in ecosystems

Elephants play a significant role in ecosystems. Their massive dung production recycles nutrients back into the soil. They can disperse seeds and fruits over wide distances.

Their massive food consumption and habit of destroying trees has led to debate about their role in changing their own environment. It is likely that such phenomena originally formed part of a natural cycle, with long-term balance between different habitats. If a high number of elephants in one area caused a reduction in the tree density, either the elephant population would limit its own reproduction, or the animals would migrate to another area, allowing regeneration of woodland. For many areas of Asia even today, this process still operates and vegetation regeneration seems to keep pace with elephant feeding. The problem is less severe than for African savannah elephants, especially those constrained within the boundaries of reserves.