Eight Facts About the African Forest Elephant
Although only listed as a subspecies by the IUCN, scientists now consider the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) to be taxonomically, genetically, morphologically and functionally distinct from the African savannah elephant (Loxodonta africana).
They are the gardeners of the Congo. The frugivorous feeding strategy of the forest elephant allows widespread dispersal of over 72 plant species, giving them a crucial role in carbon sequestration in the Earth's second largest contiguous rainforest.
Bees scare elephants! Following success in East Africa with savannah elephants, farmers in Gabon are using beehives to deter elephants from raiding fruit trees. This non-lethal strategy aims not only to tackle the widespread human-elephant conflict that results from elephant-related crop losses of up to 100%, but to improve and diversify the livelihoods of local farmers by producing honey.
A combination of poor governance, resource extraction, poaching, land-use change and human-wildlife conflict have caused population declines in African forest elephants of over 80% in in the last 25 years. With numbers of savannah elephants falling by 76% in the same time period, forest elephants are now the most endangered elephant species on Earth.
The tusks of forests elephants are longer, harder and straighter than those of savannah elephants, meaning their ivory is better for carving and fetches a higher price on the black market. Some items in Japan are even made specifically from forest elephant ivory, such as the bachi, a large plectrum used to play the three-stringed shamisen instrument.
Forest elephants are more at risk from poaching than their savannah relatives, due to a slower birth rate. A 2016 study by Andrea Turkalo and colleagues found that, on average, female forest elephants start breeding at the age of 23 years, compared with 12 years in savannah elephants. This slow intrinsic growth rate means they are much more sensitive to human-induced mortality, and could take three-times as long to recover from poaching.
Habitat encroachment and fragmentation combined with a continuous threat from poaching has caused forest elephants to move deeper and deeper into the rainforest. They are now confined to isolated patches of forest with limited resources; occupying just 25% of their potential range.
Farsight are going to film forest elephants in Nigeria! Next year, a pair of filmmakers will be going to the Omo forest reserve to try to get footage of the resident endangered species for the Whitely Wildlife Conservation Trust, such as chimpanzees, forest elephants and dwarf crocodiles. The film will capture the forest's biodiversity and will be shown to local communities to educate people against hunting and poaching.
Please help fund Farsight’s film by visiting this page:
Breuer, T., Maisels, F. and Fishlock, V., 2016. The consequences of poaching and anthropogenic change for forest elephants. Conservation Biology
Maisels, F., Strindberg, S., Blake, S., Wittemyer, G., Hart, J., Williamson, E.A., Aba’a, R., Abitsi, G., Ambahe, R.D., Amsini, F. and Bakabana, P.C., 2013. Devastating decline of forest elephants in Central Africa. PloS one, 8(3), p.e59469.
Ngama, S., Korte, L., Bindelle, J., Vermeulen, C. and Poulsen, J.R., 2016. How Bees Deter Elephants: Beehive Trials with Forest Elephants (Loxodonta africana cyclotis) in Gabon. PloS one, 11(5), p.e0155690
Turkalo, A.K., Wrege, P.H. and Wittemyer, G., 2016. Slow intrinsic growth rate in forest elephants indicates recovery from poaching will require decades. Journal of Applied Ecology.