Typically when we imagine an elephant's habitat, the mental image conjured up is one of rolling plains and endless grasses. In reality elephants live in many different countries and environments, including such extremes as deserts and swamps! Their adaptable nature leaves them able to survive in many different places in the wild, but also means they can comfortably live in their non-native countries when in captivity.
Which countries do elephants live in?
In the wild, elephants live on two continents: Africa and Asia. This is, funnily enough, where the subspecies names "African elephants" and "Asian elephants" come from. Complicated stuff!
There are two main subspecies among African elephants: forest elephants and bush (savanna) elephants. Forest elephants can mostly be found in western and central regions of Africa whereas bush elephants are found in eastern and southern regions. African elephants live wild in the following countries:
- Burkina Faso
- Central African Republic
- Democratic Republic of Congo
- CÏte d’Ivoire
- Equatorial Guinea
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
Asian elephants are found in the eastern, southern and southeastern parts of Asia.
- Lao PDR
- Sri Lanka
Elephants are currently living in captivity all over the world in zoos and circuses, although there is growing pressure in some countries to reduce or stop such captivity.
What sort of habitat do elephants live in?
Since elephants eat a lot of different types of plants, it is relatively easy for them to find suitable food in lots of different types of environment. You'll find elephants living comfortably in all of the following habitats:
Grasslands have a dry climate for long periods in the summer, with freezing temperatures in winter. Contains grasses and other herbs, and is affected by droughts, occasional fires, and grazing by large animals, all of which stop larger plants and trees growing.
Woodland is mostly covered by a dense growth of trees and shrubs. Unlike a forest, woodlands have a large and open canopy which lets sunlight through.
Tropical forests cover a land area of 0.5 hectares or more, and have a dense growth of trees, shrubs and undergrowth. The canopy is continuous and multi-layered, so not much sunlight gets through and there’s a lot of shade. The plant and animal species in a forest are highly diverse.
Savanna is often used to refer to a transitional area between grassland and forest, with coarse grass and scattered tree growth. Typically has a dry season between June and November, and a wet season from October to December and March to June.
The term "wetlands" includes swamps where the plant life is dominated by trees, and marsh where the plant life is mostly grasses. Both exist in areas with poor drainage, so that the area remains waterlogged.
African vs Asian elephant habitats
Asian elephant habitats
Asian elephants are mostly found in grassy areas, typically at the edge of forests, but their habitat can vary. They cannot last for long periods of time without drinking and are therefore limited by having to stay within close proximity of their water supply.
African elephant habitats
The African forest elephant is mainly found in forests (amazing, the inventiveness of these names!) and swamps. Their counterpart the African bush elephant can survive for days without drinking water and is mainly found in forests, deserts, savannas and marshes.