African forest elephant

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African forest elephant[1]
Conservation status
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Proboscidea
Family: Elephantidae
Genus: Loxodonta
Species: L. cyclotis
Binomial name
Loxodonta cyclotis
(Matschie, 1900)
African forest elephant range

The African forest elephant is a forest-dwelling elephant of the Congo Basin. Traditionally considered to be a subspecies of the African elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis), a 2010 paper supports it being a distinct species (Loxodonta cyclotis).[3][4] This would make it the smallest of the three extant species of elephant, but also the third-largest living terrestrial animal.

African forest elephant male in a forest clearing, Gabon

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.[5] Adult "pygmy elephants" have reportedly weighed as little as 900 kg (1,980 lb).[6]


Differences include the African forest elephant's long, narrow mandible (the African bush elephant's is short and wide), its rounded ears (an African bush elephant's ears are more pointed), straighter and downward tusks, considerably smaller size, and number of toenails. The male African forest elephant rarely exceeds 2.5 m (8 ft) in height, while the African bush elephant is usually over 3 m (just under 10 ft) and sometimes almost 4 m (13 ft) tall. Weight is reportedly around 2.7 tonnes (5,950 lb), with the largest specimens attaining 6 tonnes (13,230 lb).[7] With regard to the number of toenails, the African bush elephant normally has four toenails on the forefoot and three on the hindfoot; the African forest elephant normally has five toenails on the forefoot and four on the hindfoot (like the Asian elephant), but hybrids between the two species occur.


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.


Owing to poaching and the high demand for ivory, the African forest elephant population approached critical levels in the 1990s and early 2000s.[8][9] 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.[10]

Late in the 20th century, conservation workers established a DNA identification system to trace the origin of poached ivory. It had long been known that the ivory of the African forest elephant was particularly hard, with a pinkish tinge, and straight (whereas that of the African bush elephant is curved). The DNA tests, however, indicated the two populations were much more genetically diverse than previously believed.[11] A genetic study in 2010 confirmed they are separate species.[3]


  1. ^ Shoshani, J. (2005). "Order Proboscidea". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 91. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  2. ^ Blanc, J. (2008). "Loxodonta africana". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 30 June 2010. 
  3. ^ a b Rohland, Nadin; Reich, David; Mallick, Swapan; Meyer, Matthias; Green, Richard E.; Georgiadis, Nicholas J.; Roca, Alfred L.; Hofreiter, Michael (2010). "Genomic DNA Sequences from Mastodon and Woolly Mammoth Reveal Deep Speciation of Forest and Savanna Elephants". In Penny, David. PLoS Biology 8 (12) (December 2010). p. e1000564. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000564. 
  4. ^ Steenhuysen, Julie (December 22, 2010). "Africa has two species of elephants, not one". Reuters. 
  5. ^ Debruyne R, van Holt A, Barriel V & Tassy P (2003). "Status of the so-called African pygmy elephant (Loxodonta pumilio (NOACK 1906)): phylogeny of cytochrome b and mitochondrial control region sequences". Comptes Rendus de Biologie 326 (7): 687–69. doi:10.1016/S1631-0691(03)00158-6. PMID 14556388. 
  6. ^ "African Forest Elephant". The Animal Files. Retrieved 2012-07-23. 
  7. ^ "Forest elephant videos, photos and facts - Loxodonta cyclotis". ARKive. Retrieved 2012-07-23. 
  8. ^ Barnes RFW, Beardsley K, Michelmore F, Barnes KL, Alers MPT and Blom A (1997). "Estimating Forest Elephant Numbers with Dung Counts and a Geographic Information System". The Journal of Wildlife Management (Allen Press) 61 (4): 1384–1393. doi:10.2307/3802142. JSTOR 3802142. 
  9. ^ Barnes RFW, Alers MPT and Blom A (1995). "A review of the status of forest elephants Loxodonta africana in central Africa". Biological Conservation 71 (2): 125–132. doi:10.1016/0006-3207(94)00014-H. 
  10. ^ Gettleman, Jeffrey (26 December 2012). "In Gabon, Lure of Ivory Is Hard for Many to Resist". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ Roca, Alfred L.; Nicholas Georgiadis, Jill Pecon-Slattery, Stephen J. O'Brien. (24 August 2001). "Genetic Evidence for Two Species of Elephant in Africa". Science 293 (5534): 1473–1477. doi:10.1126/science.1059936. PMID 11520983. 
  • IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group (AfESG): "Statement on the Taxonomy of extant Loxodonta" (February 2006).

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