The African elephant and the Asian elephant make up the different elephant species. There are also some subspecies of African and Asian elephants. African elephants are divided into two subspecies, which include savannah elephants and forest elephants. There are four subspecies of Asian elephants, which include the Borneo pygmy, Indian elephant, Sumatran elephant, and Sri Lankan elephant. All types of African and Asian elephants are currently endangered, mainly because their habitat is rapidly diminishing as a result of deforestation.
In general, the African elephant species tends to be larger than the Asian elephant species. Some African elephants grow to be as tall as 13 feet (4 m) in height. Most of the larger African elephants are savannah elephants, and the ones on the smaller side are typically forest elephants, which are sometimes referred to as pygmy elephants. In addition to being taller than Asian elephants, African elephants also have larger ears and a single domed head, whereas Asian elephants have a twin-domed head with a pronounced indentation in the center. Some people believe it is possible to differentiate between African and Asian elephants by their ear shape, because each elephant species' ears are shaped similarly to the continent that they come from.
The largest of all Asian elephants are the Sri Lankan elephants, and the Sumatran subspecies is the smallest. Mainland Asian elephants are the least endangered of the Asian species, with a little more than 20,000 still roaming southeast Asia, but they are still considered endangered. Borneo pygmy Asian elephants are the most threatened, with only about 1,500 still living in the wild. In most of the countries of Asia, elephants are very important for use in labor, religious activities, and entertaining tourists. African elephants are not normally used for any other purpose aside from the tourist industry, and there are estimated to be only about 500,000 left on the entire continent of Africa.
In addition to deforestation, elephants are also in danger due to humans hunting them. Even though it is illegal, many people still hunt elephants for their ivory. Most elephants can live for up to 70 years in captivity, but their life span is usually much shorter in the wild because of all the circumstances working against them. Historical evidence shows that there used to be a very large elephant population made up of many different species. Scientists are not completely sure what caused the majority of these ancient elephant species to disappear, but they suspect it may have been due to a massive plague or climate shifting.