Fact Check

Is This a Dwarf Elephant?

Never underestimate a small elephant.

Published May 26, 2021

 (Trunks and Leaves)
Image Via Trunks and Leaves
A photograph shows an elephant with dwarfism.

In May 2021, a photograph supposedly showing a dwarf elephant was shared on social media:

This is a genuine photograph of an elephant with dwarfism that was spotted at Sri Lanka's Uda Walawe National Park in 2013. And as noted in a brief paper published at the time by researchers with the Centre for Conservation and Research, this was the "first record of a free ranging adult wild animal -- an Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), with disproportionate dwarfism."

The researchers explained that this wasn't the first time that dwarfism has occurred in the animal kingdom. Rather, animals with disproportionate dwarfism are less likely to survive into adulthood. Since Asian elephants have few predators, this lil' squish of an elephant, known as the Walawe Dwarf, managed to survive:

Dwarfism is unusual in wild animals. Individuals with disproportionate dwarfism are especially unlikely to survive in the wild as shorter limbs would impose severe fitness costs in predators or prey. As social mega-herbivores without predators, Asian elephants are one of the very few species in whom a dwarf phenotype may not be lethal. Here we report the first record of a free ranging adult wild animal - an Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), with disproportionate dwarfism.

The Walawe Dwarf elephant, which was estimated to be about 30 years old when it was first discovered in 2013, went viral a few years later when a video surfaced of the dwarf elephant fighting a full-size male elephant. Here's one clip from this tussle of trunks.


The BBC reported:

When [Director of the Uda Walawe Elephant Research Project Shermin] de Silva's team saw the Walawe Dwarf challenging the big bull in 2014, they were taken aback by how the dwarf was not only the more aggressive of the two, but he also seemed to be winning the match. Despite being shorter, the dwarf and the bull may have been evenly matched in terms of weight, de Silva said.

“The dwarf could very effectively charge his opponent head on whereas the taller individual had to stoop down awkwardly,” she said. “The taller bull could be more easily knocked off balance, while the dwarf’s low center of gravity made it more difficult. So it really seems the mismatch was actually working in favour of the dwarf so long as his opponent was of comparable weight.”

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.