Appeal: Protect Asian Elephants

Help us save vulnerable Asian elephants from being killed for profit



Why Asian elephants are in danger

elephant skin being dried

Elephant skin being dried

Asian elephants have been revered for centuries as a cultural and religious symbol, yet they are now classified as endangered.

These elephants face a variety of threats to their survival, including habitat loss, conflict with humans, climate change and being captured for use in the tourist trade.

At EIA, we’re particularly worried about the threat posed by the illegal wildlife trade.

Asian elephants often lack tusks, so they are a less attractive target for traders in illegal ivory than African elephants. However, it is still likely that some ivory from Asian elephants is making its way into the ivory trade in South-East Asia.

Meanwhile, an illegal market in elephant skin has sprung up in recent years, which criminal syndicates are keen to exploit.

Elephant skin powder is in demand in the traditional Chinese medicine industry, where it is used in remedies that are meant to cure stomach aches and skin ailments. Blocks of dried elephant skin are also carved into decorative beads for jewellery. These are prized due to their ruby red colour, which derives from elephants’ blood.

I find it absolutely sickening that Asian elephants are being poached and killed for their skin. At EIA, we’re determined to discover the extent of the problem so we can protect these majestic creatures while there’s still time.

Rachel Mackenna, Senior Wildlife Campaigner

Pushed to extinction?

The numbers of Asian elephants have declined significantly since the start of the 20th century. At that time, the population of Asian elephants may have stood at more than 100,000. Today, only around 50,000 remain in the wild, and populations are decreasing.

As their numbers have shrunk, so has their range. Asian elephants used to roam across vast areas of the Asian continent. However, they have now lost around 85% of their former habitat and are confined to pockets of the Indian subcontinent and South-East Asia.

Meet the Asian elephant

There are three sub-species of Asian elephants: the Indian elephant, the Sumatran elephant and the Sri Lankan elephant.

Highly sociable and intelligent, Asian elephants live in fluid, dynamic social groups.

Unlike African elephants, not all Asian elephants have tusks. Only some males have prominent tusks. Other males and most females have small tusks called tushes, which are just a few centimetres long.

Although Asian elephants are slightly smaller than their African counterparts, they still weigh between 2,000 and 5,000kg.

Asian elephants have poor vision and cannot see clearly beyond around 10 metres, but their hearing and sense of smell are excellent. They can hear sounds from several miles away and can pick up the scent of water 12 miles away.

Asian elephants play a vital role in maintaining the ecosystem of their habitat by dispersing seeds through their dung.

Every day they eat up to 150kg of grass, plants, leaves, fruit and bark, and drink up to 200 litres of water.

A track record of success

EIA has been at the forefront of saving elephants since the 1980s. Over the years, we have achieved incredible results by carrying out pioneering investigations and campaigning to protect these magnificent animals.

Our work has been instrumental in achieving an historic ban on the international trade in African elephant ivory in 1989, and a trade ban on ivory in China in 2018.

Our plan to save Asian elephants

We know that poaching and illegal trade pose serious threats to the survival of Asian elephants in the wild. Recently, our Intelligence and Investigations team has noticed activity related to the trade in Asian elephant skin. But we don’t know the nature, scope and scale of that trade, so we need to investigate further.

With your support, we plan to draw on our decades of experience and expertise in protecting elephants to:

  • investigate the market for Asian elephant products, including ivory and elephant skin
  • uncover new data on the threats facing Asian elephants in the wild
  • explore trafficking trends and routes, and gauge the effectiveness of current policies and conservation measures
  • share our findings with government representatives, other charities and like-minded organisations, and the public
  • campaign for Asian elephant range countries to develop policies to protect the species from poaching and exploitation.


Please donate today to help us protect the vulnerable Asian elephant and other endangered species. Thank you so much for your support.

Rachel Mackenna, Senior Wildlife Campaigner