African forest elephant
|African forest elephant|
|African forest elephant range|
The African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) is a forest-dwelling species of elephant found in the Congo Basin. It is the smallest of the three extant species of elephant, but also the third-largest living terrestrial animal. The African forest elephant and the African bush elephant were considered to be one species until genetic studies showed their relationship is distant.
The African forest elephant was once considered to be a subspecies, Loxodonta africana cyclotis, of the African elephant, together with the African bush elephant. DNA tests, however, indicated the two populations were much more genetically diverse than previously believed. In 2010, a genetic study confirmed they are separate species which diverged from each other an estimated two to seven million years ago.
The disputed pygmy elephants of the Congo Basin, often assumed to be a separate species (Loxodonta pumilio) by cryptozoologists, are probably forest elephants whose diminutive size or early maturity is due to environmental conditions.
Compared to the bush elephant, the African forest elephant has a longer, narrower mandible and its ears are more rounded. Its tusks are straighter and harder and have a pinkish tinge. It also has a different number of toenails — normally five on the forefoot and four on the hindfoot, like the Asian elephant but unlike the African bush elephant which normally has four toenails on the forefoot and three on the hindfoot.
A male African forest elephant rarely exceeds 2.5 m (8 ft) in height, considerably smaller than the bush species which is usually over 3 m (just under 10 ft) and sometimes almost 4 m (13 ft) tall. L. cyclotis reportedly weighs around 2.7 tonnes (5,950 lb), with the largest specimens attaining 6 tonnes (13,230 lb). Pygmy elephants of the Congo Basin, presumed to be a subgroup of L. cyclotis, have reportedly weighed as little as 900 kg (1,980 lb) as adults.
Diet and ecological role
The African forest elephant is a herbivore, and commonly eats leaves, fruit, and bark, with occasional visits to mineral licks. It eats a high proportion of fruit, and is sometimes the only disperser of some tree species, such as Balanites wilsoniana and Omphalocarpum spp. Elephants have been referred to as "forest gardeners" due to their significant role in seed dispersal and maintaining plant diversity.
Late in the 20th century, conservation workers established a DNA identification system to trace the origin of poached ivory. Due to poaching to meet high demand for ivory, the African forest elephant population approached critical levels in the 1990s and early 2000s. Over several decades, numbers are estimated to have fallen from approximately 700,000 to less than 100,000, with about half of the remaining population in Gabon. In May 2013, Sudanese poachers invaded the Central African Republic's Dzanga Bai World Heritage Site and killed 26 elephants. Communications equipment, video cameras, and additional training of park guards were provided following the massacre to improve protection of the site. In September 2013, it was estimated that the forest elephant could become extinct within ten years. From mid-April to mid-June 2014, poachers killed 68 elephants in Garamba National Park, including young ones without tusks.
Civil unrest, human encroachment, and habit fragmentation leaves some elephants confined to small patches of forest without sufficient food. In January 2014, IFAW undertook a relocation project at the request of the Côte d'Ivoire government, moving four elephants from Daloa to Azagny National Park.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Loxodonta cyclotis.|
|Wikispecies has information related to: Loxodonta cyclotis|
- BBC Wildlife Finder - video clips from the BBC archive
- ARKive - Images and movies of the forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis)
- PBS Nature: Tracking Forest Elephants
- Forest Elephant Program
- Elephant Information Repository - An in-depth resource on elephants
- The Elephant Listening Project - Information on forest elephants and their vocalizations.
- African Forest Elephant | AWF - Forest elephant photos and facts