The Asian elephant is considered to be a single species, Elephas maximus with four extant subspecies, E.m. hirsute (Malayan elephant), E.m. indicus (Indian elephant), E.m.maximus (Sri Lankan elephant), and E.m. sumatranus (Sumatran elephant).
Elephas maximus is listed as an endangered species with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) and classified under Appendix I with the Convention for International Trade on Endangered Species (CITES).
E.maximus once occurred from the Tigris-Euphrates in western Asia, east through Iran and south of the Himalayas; throughout south and southeast Asia including the islands of Sri Lanka, Sumatra and Borneo, and into mainland China northwards at least as far as the Changkiang (Yangtze river).
Elephants have disappeared entirely from western Asia, Iran, and most of China.
They currently occur in the following regions and countries although they are usually restricted to hilly and mountainous areas: a) Indian subcontinent: India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, b) Continental southeast Asia: China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Malaysia, c) Island Asia: Andaman Islands (India), Sri Lanka, Sumatra (Indonesia), and Borneo (Malaysia and Indonesia) (Sukumar 1994).
It is estimated that at the turn of the century there were more than 100,000 elephants in Asia (Santiapillai and Ramono 1992). The actual number of elephants found in the wild then and now can be only rough estimates.
The surviving population of Asian elephants is estimated between 30,000–50,000, one-tenth of the population of African elephants.
The process of trying to systematically census the densely forested regions of Asia is extremely difficult. In many countries, unfavorable political conditions hamper or prevent census work.