African and Asian Elephant Differences - Elefootprints blog

What's the Difference Between Asian and African Elephants?

Many people know that there are two distinct types of elephants, the African elephant, and the Asian elephant. What most people don't know, however, are the various characteristics that make these two elephants species so different. There are over ten physical characteristics that differentiate these two species as well as other differences like their diet, habitat, and potential threats.

African and Asian Elephant Differences - Elefootprints blog

African and Asian Elephant Differences - Elefootprints blog


Physical Differences between African and Asian Elephants

Size and Weight

The most obvious difference is the size of the elephant. African elephants are larger than their Asian cousins. African elephants grow to be about thirteen feet tall and can weigh upwards of 13,000 pounds! An Asian elephant will reach a height of about nine feet tall and weigh around 8,000 pounds. This size difference can be seen not only in the body, but also in the head and ears as well.

Head Shape

African elephant's heads are larger and more rounded on top. The Asian elephant is a little different because it has what is known as a “double-dome” head. There is a distinct indent that runs down the middle of an Asian elephant’s head that creates the shape of two bumps.

Asian Elephant - photo by jessica-knowlden
Asian Elephant - Photo by Jessica Knowlden

Ear Size and Shape

Children are often taught that the easiest way to distinguish between an African elephant and an Asian elephant is to look at their ears, and this is true! You will see that an African elephant’s ears resemble the shape of the African continent. Asian elephants have much smaller ears. Elephant ears are used to dissipate heat and cool the elephant’s body. The African elephant lives in a hotter climate, so they need larger ears. You can read more about elephant ears in one of our most popular elephant blogs, why are elephant ears so big.

African Elephant Cooling Off- Photo by Felix M. Dorn
African Elephant Cooling Off- Photo by Felix M. Dorn

Trunk Differences

The elephant’s trunk is another way that the African elephant is physically different from the Asian elephant. The trunk of an African elephant has two distinct “fingers” at the end. This is how an African elephant picks up objects.

African Elephant Trunk - Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels
African Elephant Trunk Photo by Magda Ehlers


If you notice, an Asian elephant tends to hold objects up under its trunk. This is because they only have one “finger” at the end of their trunk and cannot manipulate objects as easily as the African elephant.

Asian Elephant Trunk - Photo by Anna Tarazevich from Pexels
Asian-Elephant-Trunk-Photo by Anna Tarazevich

Elephant Tusks

When you think about elephants, one thing that comes to mind is tusks. Interestingly enough, not all elephants have tusks. Generally, both male and female African elephants have tusks. On the contrary, only male Asian elephants have tusks and sometimes, some male Asian elephants never grow tusks.

Other notable physical characteristics that differ between African and Asian elephants include skin texture, number of toenails, number of ribs and teeth shape.

Geographical Differences between African and Asian Elephants

In addition to physical difference, African elephants and Asian elephants also have differences in environment, diet, and lifespan.


There is no overlap of ranges for these two species of elephants. These two species would not be found together in the wild in a natural environment. African Elephants are found throughout the African continent, from the rainforests to the deserts. Asian elephants can be found in southern Asia, Nepal, Indian, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, and Cambodia. Asian elephants tend to live in forested areas of these countries.


The relative locations of these elephants also affect their diets. African elephants survive mainly off roots, grasses, fruit, and bark. An adult African elephant can eat up to 300 pounds of food a day! Asian elephants on the other hand eat bamboo, palms, and tree saplings found in their habitat.


In the wild, African elephants can live up to seventy years while Asian elephants live to about fifty years old. Elephants are some of the longest living animals in the animal kingdom. They come in second to humans for the longest living land mammal.

Similarities between African and Asian Elephants

Although these two species of elephants display many differences, they are also quite similar in many ways. Both species live in herds with distinct social structures. Elephant herds are lead by the oldest female known as the matriarch.

Threats Against African and Asian Elephants

The final and tragic similarity between African elephants and Asian elephants is that they are both in danger although the threats against these animals are different.

African elephants are most threatened by poaching and the ivory trade. In the 1980’s, approximately 100,000 African elephants were being killed every year and this resulted in an 80% decrease of herds. Today, anti-poaching laws have protected the African elephant population but due to the rise in demand for ivory, illegal poaching still exists. 

Beautiful elephant at the watering hole in Africa_Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash
African Elephant with Large Tusks - Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann


Asian elephants are most threatened by loss of habitat and conflicts with humans. Large development projects have fragmented the Asian elephant's habitat. When humans take control of elephant habitats, they force these Asian elephants to move into highly populated areas and this increases their encounters with humans. Increased human-elephant encounters usually lead to more conflict and sadly also lead to more elephant deaths. Experts suspect that the leading cause of deaths for Asian elephants is confrontations with humans.

Other threats that elephants face is capture for the timber industry, tourism industry and illegal wildlife trade.

No matter the differences between these two species of elephants, the first step in protecting them is learning about them. The more you know about these beautiful animals, the more you will be aware of threats against them. As a result, more people will work towards finding solutions to the threats facing African and Asian elephants.

Thank you for reading our post about the differences between African and Asian elephants. We hope you will return to find out more about elephants. Feel free to leave us a comment and let us know what you would like to learn about elephants.

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Author Bio:

Lauren Hulse - Blog Writer

Lauren Hulse is 31 years old and currently resides in Southwest Florida. She is an avid writer, traveler, adventurer, and animal lover. Lauren enjoys reading, writing, going to the beach with her two dogs and using her voice to raise awareness for great causes.

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