The aim of this study was to investigate age-related growth in the Sumatran elephant Elephas maximus sumatranus and to use the derived relationship to determine the age structure of the wild elephant population in Way Kambas National Park (WKNP), Sumatra. Shoulder height, forefoot circumference and diameter of dung bolus were found to be related to age of captive Sumatran elephants using the Von Bertalanffy growth function. All length measurements were highly correlated with age in the Sumatran elephant and provide growth models for determining the age structure of wild populations. Female captive elephants reached their growth plateau earlier than male elephants who continued growing throughout the ages observed. There was no clear evidence of a secondary growth spurt in male elephants. The growth model relating dung diameter to age was used to predict the age structure of the wild elephant population in WKNP from dung measured along random line transects. The wild elephant population in WKNP is young and dominated by sub-adults (between 5 and 15 years of age). There are marked differences between the age structure of the population as revealed in the current survey and that reported from previous studies, suggesting that changes have occurred within the population in the intervening period. The use of dung diameter to predict age offers a robust field technique for use in situations where direct observations are limited, and the use of other age estimation methods is impractical. It is easily coupled with dung counts for estimating the size, age structure and biomass of elephant populations, and has considerable potential for investigating the effects of poaching on age structure and identifying where priority action should be directed in human–elephant conflict situations.
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