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)
Loxodonta cyclotis map.svg
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.[3]


African forest elephant male in a forest clearing, Gabon

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.[4] In 2010, a genetic study confirmed they are separate species which diverged from each other an estimated two to seven million years ago.[3][5]

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.[6]


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).[7] 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.[8]

Diet and ecological role[edit]

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.[9][10]


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.[11][12] 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.[13] In May 2013, Sudanese poachers invaded the Central African Republic's Dzanga Bai World Heritage Site and killed 26 elephants.[14][15] Communications equipment, video cameras, and additional training of park guards were provided following the massacre to improve protection of the site.[16] In September 2013, it was estimated that the forest elephant could become extinct within ten years.[17] From mid-April to mid-June 2014, poachers killed 68 elephants in Garamba National Park, including young ones without tusks.[18]

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.[19]


  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 Steenhuysen, Julie (December 22, 2010). "Africa has two species of elephants, not one". Reuters. 
  4. ^ Roca, Alfred L.; Georgiadis, Nicholas; Pecon-Slattery, Jill; O'Brien, Stephen J. (24 August 2001). "Genetic Evidence for Two Species of Elephant in Africa". Science 293 (5534): 1473–1477. doi:10.1126/science.1059936. PMID 11520983. 
  5. ^ Rohland, Nadin; Reich, David; Mallick, Swapan; Meyer, Matthias; Green, Richard E.; Georgiadis, Nicholas J.; Roca, Alfred L.; Hofreiter, Michael (2010). Penny, David, ed. "Genomic DNA Sequences from Mastodon and Woolly Mammoth Reveal Deep Speciation of Forest and Savanna Elephants". PLoS Biology 8 (12) (December 2010). p. e1000564. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000564. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ "Forest elephant videos, photos and facts - Loxodonta cyclotis". ARKive. Retrieved 2012-07-23. 
  8. ^ "African Forest Elephant". The Animal Files. Retrieved 2012-07-23. 
  9. ^ Campos-Arceiz, Ahimsa; Blake, Steve (November–December 2011). "Megagardeners of the forest – the role of elephants in seed dispersal". Acta Oecologica. Science Direct. doi:10.1016/j.actao.2011.01.014. 
  10. ^ "Seed-dispersal by Elephants in a Tropical Rain Forest in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Zaire". Biotropica. JSTOR. December 1995. pp. 526–530. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ Gettleman, Jeffrey (26 December 2012). "In Gabon, Lure of Ivory Is Hard for Many to Resist". The New York Times. 
  14. ^ "At least 26 elephants massacred in World Heritage site". WWF Global. 10 May 2013. 
  15. ^ Neme, Laurel (13 May 2013). "Chaos and Confusion Following Elephant Poaching in a Central African World Heritage Site". National Geographic. 
  16. ^ Joyce, Christopher; McQuay, Bill (9 May 2014). "Former Commando Turns Conservationist To Save Elephants Of Dzanga Bai". NPR. 
  17. ^ Schiffman, Richard (5 January 2014). "African forest elephants are being massacred into extinction". 
  18. ^ Schemm, Paul (13 June 2014). "Poachers massacre elephants in Congo park". CTV News. The Associated Press. 
  19. ^ Russo, Christina (29 January 2014). "Success and Tragedy: IFAW’s Project to Relocate Elephants in Côte d’Ivoire". National Geographic. 
  • IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group (AfESG): "Statement on the Taxonomy of extant Loxodonta" (February 2006).

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