AFRICAN FOREST ELEPHANT
African Forest Elephants are the smallest species of Elephant. They are characterised by having more oval-shaped ears, and straighter, downwards pointing tusks compared to their Savanna relatives.
LATIN NAME: Loxodonta cyclotis
STATUS: Critically endangered (CR)
MATURE POPULATION: 24,000
HEIGHT: 8-10 feet
WEIGHT: 2-5 tons
LIFESPAN: 60-70 years
CURRENT GEOGRAPHICAL RANGE:
Historically, Forest Elephants occupied the entire humid forest area of Western and Central Africa. Although present day distributions are retracted and more fragmented, with current populations found in just 20 countries, 7 of which are reported to have populations fewer than 100 each. African Forest Elephants occupy an estimated 25% of their historic range, with reductions in populations of 80% in 93 years. This reduction is namely due to human expansion, poaching and land conversion to agriculture. Today, the largest populations of Forest Elephants are found in Gabon and the Republic of Congo.
Forest Elephants are found across the Guineao-Congolian tropical forests in West and Central Africa. The species occupies a variety of different forest habitats, including lowland humid forests on terra firma, dry forests, swamp forests, low reaches of afro-montane forests and forest-savanna mosaics. The altitude range of Forest Elephants varies from less than 10km² on the littoral forests along the Atlantic coast to more than 2,000km in the Albertine Rift.
African Forest Elephants are capable of moving long distances in search of fruiting events and mineral salt.
Forest Elephants are keystone species, meaning they play a critical role in shaping their habitats and altering ecosystems. These animals create and maintain clearings in forests which other species depend on. Forest Elephants are also highly frugivorous, meaning their diet consists mostly of fruit. This makes them essential in dispersing many tree species, particularly seeds of larger tree species. Larger trees tend to have higher carbon contents, therefore by dispersing seeds of larger species, Forest Elephants also play a role in regulating the carbon cycle and tackling climate change.
African Forest Elephants, being one of the big 5, play a critical role in attracting tourists into National Parks, allowing for economies to develop. These creatures are also held with great cultural significance to many African communities.
African Forest Elephants are vulnerable to poaching for their ivory tusks. This is a major cause of individual death, with 55 African Elephants poached daily, leading to population declines. The trade of ivory has historically been high in Europe, USA and Asia. In 1989, the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) banned the international trade of commercial ivory, in an attempt to reduce population declines of African Elephants. However, the illegal trade of ivory still occurs, with organised international criminal networks smuggling huge amounts of ivory to Asian markets, where ivory is seen as a luxury status symbol.
Trophy hunting industries still operate in some African countries including Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, South Africa and Zimbabwe. There is an ongoing debate as to whether trophy hunting benefits conservation as the revenue created has potential to fund wildlife conservation efforts if used correctly, whilst the act of hunting could also help maintains the biodiversity of ecosystems.
The range of African Forest Elephants has reduced to just 25% of historic ranges. This is largely due to habitat loss and fragmentation resulting from human population expansion and land conversion of forests to agriculture and human infrastructure. With projected human population growth, land conversion is expected to accelerate in future decades. This will further reduce Elephant ranges, leading to increased contact with humans, worsening the human-elephant conflict.
The range of African Elephants may be further reduced in the future due to climate change and the associated increase in frequency and severity of droughts. This limits freshwater supplies needed for survival, forcing Elephants to venture further into inhabited areas in search for water, increasing the human-wildlife conflict. The increased risk of bushfires associated with droughts also threatens further loss of habitat and potentially leads to humans relocating to protected or semi-protected areas.
Due to the regions which Saving The Survivors (STS) operates from, the team rarely come into contact with the African Forest Elephant who are much less common than their Savanna relatives. However, Saving The Survivors will assist with any animal in need. With the teams extensive expertise knowledge and experience in care and rehabilitation of Savanna Elephants, STS offers the best chance of survival for any injured Forest Elephant due to the anatomical similarities between both species.