Few visitors to the Zoo would skip a visit to see this fascinating group. Their home is the award-winning Trail of the Elephants, which allows the elephants considerable scope to roam and forage: it is estimated they travel as far (or further) than elephants living in natural non-extreme environments (6.21-15.00km/day vs. 5-10 km/day).
The Asian Elephant was once widespread throughout Asia. However, loss of habitat and poaching has forced remaining populations into heavily forested, inaccessible regions in south and South-East Asia. Countries in which the Asian Elephant may be found include Sri Lanka, Laos, Thailand, Burma, China, Malaysia, India, Indonesia (on the island of Sumatra) and Cambodia. There may be fewer than 53,000 animals remaining throughout Asia and the wild population is decreasing.
Five pregnancies have been achieved since Melbourne Zoo established the Cooperative Conservation Breeding Program upon the arrival of three young elephant cows from Thailand in November 2006. The aim of the breeding program is to create an insurance population of this endangered species. Melbourne Zoo's first-ever calf Mali is also the first female elephant born in Australia and the first elephant born in Australia to be conceived through artificial insemination.
In the wild the Asian Elephant eats leaves, flowers, fruits, shrubs, grasses and roots. An adult elephant may eat up to 170kg of food, drink 90L of water, and produce up to 75kg of faeces per day. Herds of Asian Elephants occasionally feed on fruit trees growing on plantations bordering the forests, causing thousands of dollars of damage. To prevent this, guards patrol the boundaries of farms and use spotlights and fire crackers to scare the elephants away.
At Melbourne Zoo the herd's diet is mostly hay and lucerne, along with treats of carrots, apples, bread, sugar cane, bamboo, and leafy branches. The Zoo's elephants are contributors to the compost production at Melbourne Zoo, which is sold in garden centres as Zoo Gro.