The African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) one of the two living African elephant species. In West Africa and the Congo Basin, it is native to humid forests.
It is the smallest of the three species of living elephants, reaching a shoulder height of 7 ft 10 in (2.4 m). Both sexes have straight, downward-pointing tusks that erupt when they are 1-3 years old.
They live in family groups of about 20 people. It has been called the ‘megagardener of the forest’ since it forages on leaves, seeds, fruit, and tree bark.
The structure and composition of the Guinean Forests of West Africa and the Congolese rainforests contribute significantly to their maintenance.
In 1900, the first scientific description was published of the species. During the 20th century, as estimated in 2013, the population declined to less than 30,000 individuals due to hunting. Habitat loss, fragmentation and poaching threaten it.
The conservation status of populations varies across different nations.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Proboscidea
- Family: Elephantidae
- Genus: Loxodonta
- Species: Loxodonta cyclotis
- Average Life Span In the Wild: Up to 70 years
- Size: Height at the shoulder, 8.2 to 13 feet
- Weight: 2.5 to seven tons
In 1824, Loxodonte was proposed by Georges Cuvier as the generic name for African elephants. This name applies to the molar teeth’s lozenge-shaped enamel, which differs significantly from the shape of the molar enamel of the Asian elephant. Loxodonte was Latinized in 1827 to Loxodonta by an anonymous author.
The scientific name was proposed by Paul Matschie in 1900, which described the skulls of a female and a male specimen collected in southern Cameroon by the Sanaga River, was Elephas (Loxodonta) cyclotis.
Along with the African bush elephant, the African forest elephant has long been considered to be a subspecies of the African elephant. Analysis of morphology and DNA has shown that they are two different species.
Asian elephants, African bush and forest elephants, woolly mammoths and American mastodons’ phylogenetic analysis of nuclear DNA revealed that the African forest elephant and African bush elephant constitute a sister group that diverged genetically at least 1.9 million years ago.
Thus, they are considered separate species. However, gene flow between the two species could have occurred after the split.
Analysis of ancient DNA from extinct and living elephantids indicates that one of the three ancestors of the straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) is the African forest elephant.
The grey skin of the African forest elephant looks yellow to reddish after wallowing. Black, coarse hair, which is 20-200 mm (0.8-8 in) long around the tip of the tail, is sparsely covered.
The length of the tail varies from half of the rump height to almost touching the ground between individuals. On the forefoot, it has five toenails and on the hindfoot, four.
Its oval-shaped ears have small tips with an elliptical shape. The big ears help to reduce body heat; flapping them creates air currents and exposes the inner sides of the ears where, during hot weather, large blood vessels increase heat loss. Her back is almost straight.
Its tusks are straight, pointing downward.
Bulls reach a height of 2.4–3.0 m (7.9–9.8 ft) in the shoulder. At about 1.8–2.4 m (5.9–7.9 ft) tall at the shoulder, females are smaller. They reach a weight of 2-4 tons (2.2-4.4 short tons). The size of the footprint ranges from 4.9 to 13.9 in (12.5 to 35.3 cm).
There are two fingerlike procedures at the tip of the trunk of African elephants. A prehensile elongation of its upper lip and nose is the trunk.
The trigeminal nerve mainly innervates this highly sensitive organ and is thought to be manipulated by approximately 40-60,000 muscles.
The trunk is so strong due to this muscular structure that elephants can use it to lift about 3 per cent of their own body weight. They use it to smell, touch, feed, drink, dust, produce sounds, load, defend and attack.
Molars and tusks
The tusks of the African forest elephant are straight and point downward. Both female and male African elephants have tusks called tushes that grow from deciduous teeth, which are replaced when calves are about one year old by tusks.
Tusks are composed of dentin, which in the tusk’s centre forms small diamond-shaped structures that become larger at its periphery. When the elephant is five years old, a conical layer on its tips consisting of tooth enamel is typically worn off.
There are pink tusks on the African forest elephant, which are thinner and harder than the African bush elephant’s tusks. Between people, the length and diameter vary.
Tusks of bulls grow throughout their lives, and cow tusks stop growing when they are sexually mature. For digging for roots, marking and debarking trees, minerals and water, resting and protecting the trunk, and also for defence and attack, they use their tusks.
The tusks are used to push their habitat through the dense undergrowth. Their tusks can grow to about 1.5 m (5 ft ) long and can weigh between 50 and 100 lb (23 and 45 kg).
Depending on the nutrition available and population density, females reach sexual maturity between the age of 8 and 12 years. They start breeding on average at the age of 23 and give birth every 5–6 years.
As a consequence, the rate of birth is lower than the bush species, which begins to breed at age 12 and has a calf every 3-4 years.
That time enables mothers to devote all of the attention the calf needs to teach it all of the complex tasks that come with being an elephant, such as eating, washing, and drinking with their trunk.
At birth, baby elephants weigh around 105 kg (232 lb). They can move around almost immediately, allowing the mother to roam around and forage, which is also essential for reducing predation.
The baby uses its mouth to suckle while its trunk is held over its head. Their tusks do not arrive until they are about 16 months old and the calves do not wean until they are about 4 or 5 years old.
Their tusks are around 14 cm long by this time, and they begin to get in the way of suckling. Forest elephants have a lifespan of about 60 to 70 years and slowly mature, coming to puberty in their early teens.
In the next year or two of females, males generally pass puberty. Males experience ‘musth’ between the ages of 15 and 25, which is a hormonal state they experience marked by increased aggression.
During this time, the male secretes fluid between its ear and eye from the temporal gland. Younger males often experience a shorter period of time with musth, while older males do for a longer period of time.
Males have a more erect walk when undergoing musth, with their heads high and tusks inward, may rub their heads on bushes or trees to spread the scent of musth, and may even flap their ears, accompanied by a rumble of musth, so that their smell can be blown to other elephants.
Another musth-related behaviour is urination. Males allow their urine to come out slowly and spray their hind legs’ insides. All of these behaviours are to promote receptive women and competing males who are in the state of musth.
The females are polyestrous, which means they can conceive several times a year, which is why they do not seem to have a breeding season. During the two rainy seasons of the year, there does appear to be a peak in conceptions, however.
Generally, after two or three matings, the female conceives. Although the female has plenty of room for gestating twins in her uterus, twins are rarely conceived. The pregnancy of a female African forest elephant lasts for 22 months.
African forest elephants have the ability to increase the population size of the species by 5 per cent annually under ideal conditions, based on maturity, fertility, and gestation rates.
The biggest land animals on Earth are African elephants. They are a little larger than their Asian cousins, and their bigger ears that look more like the continent of Africa may distinguish them. (Asian elephants have smaller, rounded ears.)
African elephants are an important species, meaning they play an important role in their ecosystem. Which is why they are called “ecosystem engineers,” elephants shape their habitat in many ways.
They use their tusks to dig dry riverbeds during the dry season to build watering holes that many animals can drink from.
Their dung can be full of seeds, helping plants spread across the environment, and it also gives dung beetles a reasonably good habitat!
Their feasting on trees and shrubs in the forest creates roads for smaller animals to pass along, and they uproot trees and consume saplings in the savannah, which helps keep the area open for the prosperity of zebras and other plains.
Often, African elephants are divided into savanna elephants and woodland elephants. Some physical and genetic variations exist, but scientists still disagree about whether the variations are significant enough to declare them distinct species. Actually, most still consider them same species, Loxodonta africana.
Elephant ears emit heat to help keep these big animals cool, but often the African heat is too much.
Elephants are fond of water and love showering and pouring it all over themselves by sucking water into their trunks. They also spray their skin with a protective layer of dust afterwards.
The trunk of an elephant is actually a long nose used, particularly for a potential meal, for trumpeting, smelling, breathing, drinking, and also for catching items.
Around 40,000 muscles are found in the trunk alone. On the end of their trunk, African elephants have two fingerlike features that they can use to grab small objects. (Asian elephants have only one.)
African elephants, both male and female, have tusks, which are constantly developing teeth. They use these tusks to dig for food and water and strip bark from trees. Males, whose tusks appear to be larger than those of women, often use their tusks to combat each other.
In a single day, an adult elephant will eat up to 300 pounds of food. These hungry animals do not sleep much, and when foraging for the large amounts of food they need to maintain their huge bodies, they wander over large distances. Elephants eat roots, grasses, fruit, and bark, and they eat large quantities of these things.
African elephants spread in the savannas of sub-Saharan Africa and the rainforests of Central and West Africa. The northernmost elephants on the continent are located in Mali’s Sahel region. A small, nomadic herd of Malian elephants migrates through the desert on a circular route in search of water.
They are gradually coming into contact with humans because elephants consume too much. An elephant can kill an entire season of crops in a single night — a major blow to a farmer, who might want to retaliate.
In order to help them secure their crops, there are a variety of conservation projects working with farmers (elephants are so clever that they can learn to get past electric fences quickly!) to offer compensation when an elephant raids them.
Elephants are matriarchal, meaning that they live in communities headed by females. The matriarch is typically the largest and oldest.
She presides over a multi-generational herd that includes other women and their young, called cows. Adult males, called bulls, appear to wander on their own, often forming all-male groups that are smaller, more loosely connected.
It is a serious commitment to have a baby elephant. Elephants have a more prolonged pregnancy, almost 22 months, than any other animal. Every two to four years, cows usually give birth to one calf. Elephants already weigh some 200 pounds at birth and stand about 3 feet high.
The greatest threat to the survival of African elephants is trafficking for the ivory trade. There may have been as much as 26 million before the Europeans started colonizing Africa.
The arrival of Europeans set off the commercial ivory movement, where piano keys, billiard balls, combs, and all type of other things were used for tusks.
Elephant numbers had fallen to 10 million by the early 20th century. It continued to increase hunting. Their numbers were down to 1.3 million by 1970.
Hunting and smuggling put the African elephant at risk of extinction between 1970 and 1990, reducing its population by the other half.
Today, they are listed as vulnerable to death by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Today, as few as 400,000 remains.
These years of conflict have also had an anticipated effect, as poachers kill elephants for their tusks: African elephants are evolving to become tuskless.
Across the continent, studies have shown that regions with traditionally higher levels of poaching now have more generous proportions of tuskless females than average.
Researchers are also trying to discover out how this evolution could influence the species in the long term.
Although the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora ( CITES) banned global trade in ivory in 1989, the illicit trade in tusks continues to be high, and poaching continues throughout the continent.
The Great Elephant Census announced in 2016 that the number of savanna elephants decreased at a rate of 8%, or 27,000 elephants per year.
How long it takes for elephants to reproduce is compounding the problem. With reproduction rates hovering about 5 to 6%, there are not enough calves being born to compensate for the poaching losses.
As the human population increases and people convert land for agriculture and construction, African elephants are also losing their habitat.
Elephants require a lot of space to explore, because not only does habitat loss and degradation make it more difficult for them to find food, water, and each other, but it also makes them a risky prospect for both of them in increased conflict with humans.
In all countries in their geographic range, African elephants are covered to varying degrees. They are also covered by international environmental agreements, by CITES and by the Migratory Species Protection Convention. Recent attempts have been made to re-legalize the illegal ivory trade, but they have failed so far.
Conservation organizations and governments, including territories linking those protected areas, have worked to set aside land for wildlife. Still, scientists estimate that up to 70 per cent of the range of elephants is on the unprotected ground.
Stopping the trade is crucial to curbing poaching. Campaigns have been introduced by activists that discuss both the supply side (poaching) and the demand side (people buying ivory).
In recent times, there have been some breakthroughs, especially on the demand side: China, considered to be the world’s largest illicit and legal ivory market, agreed to a “near-complete” ban on domestic ivory trade in 2015. Public demand for ivory seems to have plummeted after the ban went into effect.
Protecting elephants from poaching also takes a local approach on the supply side. Research in 2019 found that elephant suffering is related to that of the people living nearby: areas with high levels of poverty and corruption are more likely to have higher rates of poaching.
This indicates that the appeal of poaching may be minimized by helping communities establish healthy livelihoods.
More robust law enforcement and corruption prevention are necessary as well.