Asian Elephant

Elephas maximus

Asian elephants are a remarkable species that face a myriad of challenges posed by dwindling habitat and increasing conflict with humans. By tracking them, Smithsonian scientists can gain a better understanding of their activity and provide recommendations for the best way to protect them.


Myanmar map

Height: 1.8-3.7m (6 to 12 ft)

Weight: 2700-5500kg (6 to 12,000 lbs)

Elephants are one of the most intelligent animals in the world demonstrating complex thought, self-awareness, and creative problem solving skills.

Conservation Status: Endangered

Endangered scale


Smithsonian scientists have been tracking Asian elephants in the wild since 2014. Asian elephant populations are at an all-time low globally, with wild populations in Myanmar estimated to be < 2000 individuals. Threats to the species include loss of habitat, human encroachment, and poaching. Knowledge regarding the space use, resource utilization, and movement is minimal. In order to track individuals, elephants are fitted with GPS collar that weigh <1% of the animals body weight. The collar is equipped with a GPS tracking device, providing the precise location of the animal over time.

Over the past three years, Smithsonian scientists and colleagues have successfully collared 19 individuals. The data from these tracking devices have been priceless, providing detailed information about the movements of animals as they navigate across changing landscapes, how they interact with other elephants, and areas of human-elephant conflict. These conflicts can be devastating to farmers – usually resulting in a significant loss of income for the families and even fatalities when their homes are crushed. Unfortunately, we have also identified a high incidence of poaching, with 7 of 19 (37%) collared elephants confirmed as being poached. Unlike their African cousins, Asian elephants are being poached for their skin and body parts. This is particularly troubling, as it means that all age groups and sexes are potential targets (bulls, cows, juveniles, and infants).

By tracking Asian elephants throughout these habitats, Smithsonian scientists aim to understand the factors that influence the movement of these magnificent and endangered creatures, while also providing relevant information to local partners and government officials to improve their conservation status.

In the figure below, the movements of four elephants are displayed. Fitted with GPS units in December 2017, these animals have moved primarily in a north-south direction, meandaring through forest habitats and often within close proximity to local villages. Unfortunately, elephants are notoriously difficult to track over long periods. As a result, we only continue to track Ayeyar Maung, a young male last observed near our field camp in the northern section of this study area. Also highlighted on the map is the location of poaching activties that have been recorded.

Map tracking Myanmar elephants

Meet the Team

Conservation Biologist

Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) Conservation Ecology Center

Center Head, Conservation Biologist

Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) Conservation Ecology Center National Zoological Park


Scholarly Articles

Sampson C, McEvoy J., Oo Z.M., Chit A.M., Chan A.N., Tonkyn D., Soe P., Songer, M., Williams, A.C., Reisinger, K., Wittemyer, G., and Leimgruber, P. (2018) New elephant crisis in Asia—Early warning signs from Myanmar. PLoS ONE 13(3): e0194113.

Songer, M., Aung, M., Allendorf, T.D., Calabrese, J.M., and Leimgruber, P. (2016). Drivers of Change in Myanmars Wild Elephant Distribution. Tropical Conservation Science9(4), 1940082916673749.

Leimgruber, P., Min Oo, Z., Aung, M., Kelly, D., Wemmer, C., Senior, B., and Songer, M. (2011). Current Status of Asian Elephants in Myanmar. Gajah35, 76–86.

Fernando, P. and Leimgruber, P. (2011). Asian elephants and seasonally dry forests. The Ecology and Conservation of Seasonally Dry Forests in Asia, 151–163.Doyle, S., Groo, M., Sampson, C., Songer, M., Jones, M., and Leimgruber, P. (2010). Human-elephant conflict- what can we learn from the news? Gajah32, 14–20.

Leimgruber, P., Senior, B., Uga, Aung, M., Songer, M. A., Mueller, T., Wemmer, C., and Ballou, J.D. (2008). Modeling population viability of captive elephants in Myanmar (Burma): Implications for wild populations. Animal Conservation11(3), 198–205.

Leimgruber, P., Gagnon, J.B., Wemmer, C., Kelly, D.S., Songer, M.A., and Selig, E.R. (2003). Fragmentation of Asia’s remaining wildlands: implications for Asian elephant conservation. Animal Conservation6(4), 347–359.


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