African Savanna Elephant (Loxodonta Africana), African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta Cyclotis), Asian Elephant (Elephas Maximus)
Elephants are the largest land mammals on earth and have distinctly massive bodies, large ears, and long trunks. They use their trunks to pick up objects, trumpet warnings, greet other elephants, or suck up water for drinking or bathing, among other uses.
Two genetically different African species exist: the savanna elephant and the forest elephant, with a number of characteristics that differentiate them both. The African savanna elephant is the largest elephant species, while the Asian forest elephant and the African forest elephant are of a comparable, smaller size.
Elephants need extensive land areas to survive and meet their ecological needs, which includes food, water, and space. On average, an elephant can feed up to 18 hours and consume hundreds of pounds of plant matter in a single day. As a result, as they lose habitat, they often come into conflict with people in competition for resources.
Why They Matter
Elephants help maintain forest and savanna ecosystems for other species and are integrally tied to rich biodiversity. Elephants are important ecosystem engineers. They make pathways in dense forested habitat that allow passage for other animals. An elephant footprint can also enable a micro-ecosystem that, when filled with water, can provide a home for tadpoles and other organisms.
As keystone species, they help maintain biodiversity of the ecosystems they inhabit.
African bush elephants and Asian elephants are listed as endangered and African forest elephants as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Today, the greatest threat to African elephants is wildlife crime, primarily poaching for the illegal ivory trade, while the greatest threat to Asian elephants is habitat loss, which results in human-elephant conflict.
African elephant populations have fallen from an estimated 12 million a century ago to some 400,000. In recent years, at least 20,000 elephants have been killed in Africa each year for their tusks. This dramatic decline has continued and even accelerated with cumulative losses of up to 90% in some landscapes between 2011 and 2015.