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Reproduction

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African forest elephants are polygynous. Males compete for access to estrus females and older, larger, more dominant males generally mate with more females. Males experience "musth," a hormonal state marked by increased aggression. During this period, the male secretes a fluid from the temporal gland between the eye and ear. Musth begins at 15 and 25 years old. There is a positive correlation between age and period of musth in male elephants. Younger males usually experience musth for a shorter period of time while older males usually experience it for a longer period of time. There are several behaviors that male elephants do while in musth. They have a more erect walk - their head held high and their tusks tucked inward. They may also rub the side of their heads on trees or bushes in order to spread their musth scent. They may wave or flap their ears which would blow the musth smell towards other elephants. At the same time the ear wave is performed, a musth rumble may be transitted. A musth rumble is a distinct set of low frequency calls they may be as low as 14 Hz. Younger males perform these calls less frequently than older males and females usually respond with their own calls. The last behavior associated with musth is urination. Males dribble urine slowly and allow it to spray onto the insides of their hind legs. All of these behaviors serve to advertise their musth state to receptive females and competing males. Females go through four stages of estrous behavior. The first stage is wariness, the next stage is the estrous walk, where the female leaves her group, walking away with her head held high and turned to the side watching the male follow her from behind. The third stage is the chase. The fourth and final stage of estrous behavior is consortship. A male and female elephant interact physically during this stage. The male wards off any other males as the female gets closer to her partner.

Mating System: polygynous ; cooperative breeder

Because African forest elephants are a recently recognized species, there is little specific information available on their reproduction. Information reported here is for the previously recognized inclusive species - African elephants. Younger males go into musth during the dry season, but older males go into musth during the wet season, when more females go into estrous. Estrous lasts for about 2 days and occurs approximately every 15 weeks. Gestation lasts 20 to 22 months, after which a single young is born, although twins occur rarely. Females nurse their young for up to 6.5 years, although young begin to include vegetation in their diet in their first year of life. Male young may nurse more than female young and allosuckling occasionally occurs - where other female members of the group nurse another female's young. Age at sexual maturity varies with climate, habitat, and diet. Wild female elephants usually reach sexual maturity between 11 and 14 years old (range 9 to 22 years). Males also reach sexual maturity at 11 to 14 years, although males typically do not successfully reproduce until they are older, more experienced, and larger.

Breeding interval: Females breed every 4 to 9 years.

Breeding season: Mating may occur throughout the year, but may be more concentrated in the wet season.

Range number of offspring: 1 to 2.

Average number of offspring: 1.

Range gestation period: 22 to 24 months.

Range weaning age: 36 to 78 months.

Average time to independence: 13 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 11 to 14 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 8 to 15 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous

Females in African forest elephant groups all contribute to the care of young. Mothers nurse and care for their young for extended periods of time, from birth to about 8 years old. Very young calves stay within about 5 meters of their mother at all times. When a calf is born, it can stand on its own shortly after birth. Calves are nursed exclusively for 3 months and weaned at 78 months old. Calves spend many years learning to navigate their complex environments and find food.

Parental Investment: precocial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); post-independence association with parents; extended period of juvenile learning

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Connor, T. 2009. "Loxodonta cyclotis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_cyclotis.html
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Tara Connor, Radford University
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Untitled

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Until 2001, African forest elephants were considered a smaller, forest-dwelling subspecies of the inclusive African elephant species (Loxodonta africana). However, clear genetic differences suggest that African forest elephants are quite distinct and deserved species status. Morphological and behavioral differences recognized at the subspecies level also support this distinction.

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Connor, T. 2009. "Loxodonta cyclotis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_cyclotis.html
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Behavior

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African forest elephants, along with other elephants, communicate among widely dispersed social groups through low-frequency sounds (5 Hz). Because Loxodonta cyclotis is newly recognized, there is no literature on communication and perception in this species. However, it was previously recognized that African elephants are capable of recognizing a call from a family member up to a distance of 2.5 km, but can better recognize it at 1.0 to 1.5 km. Given the difference in habitat structure (savannah vs. forest), it may be expected that detection distances are shorter in African forest elephants. Hearing and smell are the two most important senses for these mammals. They can hear vibrations through the ground and can use their sense of smell to detect food sources. Like other elephants, though, African elephants have good eyesight and extremely sensitive tactile perception through their trunks and skin. Trunks are used extensively to manipulate objects and for information gathering. Elephants touch their trunk to an object, then insert the trunk into the mouth, where the chemical cues are picked up in the roof of the mouth.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: pheromones ; vibrations

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; vibrations ; chemical

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Connor, T. 2009. "Loxodonta cyclotis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_cyclotis.html
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Conservation Status

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The IUCN Red List considers African forest elephants a subspeces of African elephants, which they consider near threatened. CITES lists African elephants under appendices I and II. Appendix I states that the animal is threatened to extinction and trade of the animal is only allowed under certain circumstances. Appendix II states that the animal is not necessarily threatened to extinction, but trade of the animal is closely monitored.

US Federal List: threatened

CITES: appendix i; appendix ii

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: no special status

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Connor, T. 2009. "Loxodonta cyclotis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_cyclotis.html
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Benefits

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African elephants have been known to cause damage to crops. They typically are attracted to sugarcane (Saccharum officianarum) and cereals like corn (Zea mays), sorghum (Sorghum vulgare), and wheat (Triticum vulgare). They are also attracted to many different types of millet such as finger millet (Eleusine coracana), little millet (Panicum miliare), and bulrush millet (Pennisetum typhoides). Elephants are attracted to different fruits and vegetables such as mango, banana, orange, melon, jackfruit, potato, tomato, carrot, spinach, and pumpkin. Much of the crop damage is caused by elephants trampling over crops and is only sometimes due to the eating of crops. Other crops often affected by African forest elephants include oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), oranges (Citrus sinensis), and cacao (Theobroma cacao). Elephants occasionally kill people. These are usually chance encounters where people accidentally or intentionally become too close to an elephant, causing it to feel threatened.

Negative Impacts: injures humans; crop pest

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Connor, T. 2009. "Loxodonta cyclotis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_cyclotis.html
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Benefits

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African forest elephants have affected human populations in a positive way because they provide humans with ivory, hide, and meat. Different cultures have historically used elephant ivory for different purposes and it is viewed as a symbol of wealth and luxury. Ivory has been used for knife handles, combs, toys, piano keys, billiard balls, furniture, and artwork. Portuguese in the late fifteenth century exported 100 to 120 tons of ivory average every year from western Africa. In the late nineteenth century, the Congo exported 352 tons of ivory per year. Elephant ivory is no longer legally traded and poaching for ivory is a major threat to elephant populations. African forest elephants are important members of native ecosystems, impacting forest regeneration and composition.

Positive Impacts: food ; body parts are source of valuable material

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Connor, T. 2009. "Loxodonta cyclotis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_cyclotis.html
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Associations

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African forest elephants are important dispersers of seeds through their consumption of fruit. Forest dates (Balanites wilsoniana) are considered elephant dependent because the seed germinates more successfully after passing through an elephant. The decline of elephant populations in West African rain forests in Upper Guinea is correlated with forest date population declines. African forest elephants are also responsible for creating and maintaining large clearings in the middle of rainforests in areas where they extract mineral salts from the soil or tear down vegetation as they eat and travel. These forest openings strongly affect forest tree regeneration and increase forest tree diversity, affecting many other organisms in that area. The paths and holes in the ground that they make as they travel are used by other smaller animals for shelter or become a source of drinking water. Because of their large impact on forest composition, African forest elephants might be considered a keystone species.

Because African forest elephants were long-considered a subspecies of the inclusive African elephant species, Loxodonta africana, parasites for both species have not been sorted out. However, parasites recognized the inclusive species include: 2 species of trematodes, 32 species of nematodes, 21 species of ticks, 1 louse species, botflies, protozoans (Babesia), and blood-sucking flies in the family Anthomyidae.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds; creates habitat; keystone species

Mutualist Species:

  • forest dates (Balanites wilsoniana)

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • trematodes (Trematoda)
  • nematodes (Nematoda)
  • ticks (Acari)
  • lice (Anoplura)
  • botflies (Cuterebra)
  • protozoans (Babesia)
  • blood-sucking flies (Anthomyidae)
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Connor, T. 2009. "Loxodonta cyclotis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_cyclotis.html
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Trophic Strategy

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African forest elephants are herbivorous, their diet is composed mainly of fruit, leaves, bark, and twigs of rainforest trees. They consume a wide variety of fruit, including Antidesma vogelianum, Omphalocarpum species, Duboscia macrocarpa, Swartzia fistuloides, and Klainedoxa gabonensis. Tree species eaten include legumes such as Piptadeniastrum africanum, Petersianthus macrocarpus, and Pentaclethra eetveldeana. Diets vary regionally with available trees and fruits. African forest elephants supplement their herbivorous diet with minerals that they get by eating soil.

Plant Foods: leaves; wood, bark, or stems; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit

Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore , Frugivore , Lignivore)

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Connor, T. 2009. "Loxodonta cyclotis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_cyclotis.html
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Tara Connor, Radford University
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Distribution

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African forest elephants occur in central and western Africa. They can be found in northern Congo, southwestern Central African Republic, the southeast coast of Gabon, southern Ghana, and in Cote D'Ivoire. Many of these populations are isolated from each other currently.

Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )

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Connor, T. 2009. "Loxodonta cyclotis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_cyclotis.html
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Tara Connor, Radford University
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Habitat

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African forest elephants are most populous in central and western Africa. Areas of high density are characterized by lowland tropical rainforests, semi-evergreen and semi-deciduous tropical rainforests, and swamps. Elephants change habitats seasonally, inhabiting swampy areas during the dry season, then moving back to lowland rainforest areas in the wet season. African forest elephants seek refuge in rainforest preserves because they are persecuted by local human populations. They are illegallly hunted for ivory and killed for crop-raiding.

Range elevation: 100 to 400 m.

Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest

Wetlands: swamp

Other Habitat Features: riparian

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Connor, T. 2009. "Loxodonta cyclotis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_cyclotis.html
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Life Expectancy

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There are no reports of lifespan in Loxodonta cyclotis. Data from the previously recognized inclusive species, African elephants (Loxodonta africana) suggests lifespans of 65 to 70 years old in the wild. A living 53 year old elephant is the oldest recorded age for captive African elephants, but expected lifespan in captivity is closer to 33.

Range lifespan
Status: wild:
70 (high) years.

Range lifespan
Status: captivity:
54 (high) years.

Typical lifespan
Status: wild:
65 (high) years.

Typical lifespan
Status: captivity:
33 (high) years.

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Connor, T. 2009. "Loxodonta cyclotis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_cyclotis.html
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Tara Connor, Radford University
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Morphology

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African forest elephants are smaller than their close relatives, savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana). Male shoulder height is greater than female shoulder height and height increases with age. Mean shoulder height is between 144 and 155 cm (range 69 to 216 cm). Hind footprint length is helpful in determining age, mean hind footprint length is 24.7 and the median is 25.8 cm (range 12.5 to 35.3 cm). Boli width, or feces, is also a helpful factor in determining body size and, therefore, age. Average boli width is 10 cm (range 4 to 16 cm). Measurements of wild animals indicate that African forest elephants stop growing at about 10 to 12 years of age, younger than their savannah elephant relatives. Furthermore, growth rates are lower than savannah elephants. African forest elephants also have straighter and thinner tusks that hang more vertically to assist in passage through dense forests. They have rounded ears, unlike savanna elephants that have overhanging flaps along the upper edge of the ear. There are also differences in skull morphology between the two species: African forest elephants have less pneumatization, the formation of air cells or cavities in tissue, in their skulls than savanna elephants. African forest elephants have 4 toes on their front feet and 3 on the hind feet, African savanna elephants have 5 toes on their front feet and 4 on the hind feet, although hybrids occur.

Elephants have the largest brain of any land animal. The brain is located in the back of the skull away from the forehead. Their forehead holds a sponge-like bone which compensates for the heavy weight of the trunk. The trunk is more sensitive than human fingers and is used to signal, trumpet, eat, bathe, dust, smell, and in defense. Trunks are also used in respiration, especially when elephants swim. They can hold their trunks above the water and breathe through them. The large ears of African forest elephants help them regulate temperature because they have few sweat glands. They cool themselves by making a fanning motion with their ears and pump blood into the ears to help dissipate body heat. Elephants have sensitive skin and can be prone to sunburn, especially when young. Their wrinkled skin also helps in keeping them cool because water is trapped in the cracks and crevices, which then evaporates. Elephants can lose 75% of their body heat using this method of cooling. The large feet and thick fat pads on the feet act as shock absorbers to help evenly distribute the pressure of their large body mass. Their feet are sensitive and can pick up vibrations through the ground, including thunder and elephant calls from up to 10 miles away.

Range mass: 2700 to 6000 kg.

Range length: 1.6 to 2.86 m.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; sexes shaped differently; ornamentation

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Connor, T. 2009. "Loxodonta cyclotis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_cyclotis.html
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Tara Connor, Radford University
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Associations

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Humans are the greatest threats to African forest elephants. They have been extensively hunted for their ivory, which may be why many African forest elephants travel and feed at night. They are also persecuted by farmers for the damage they do to crops. Crop destruction is more often the result of foraging by rats (Nesomyidae), porcupines (Hystricidae), monkeys (Cercopithecus), and river hogs (Potamochoerus porcus), but many any crop destruction on elephants. Very young African forest elephants that somehow are separated from their family group or are ill may be preyed on by large carnivores, such as lions (Panthera leo) or hyenas (Hyaenidae), although these predators are rare in African forest elephant habitats.

Known Predators:

  • humans (Homo sapiens)
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Connor, T. 2009. "Loxodonta cyclotis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Loxodonta_cyclotis.html
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Tara Connor, Radford University
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Biology

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The more elusive forest elephant has not been studied as extensively as the savanna species but some striking differences in social organisation and behaviour are already apparent. These elephants occur in small groups of around 5 - 8 individuals (8), which sometimes come together to form larger 'bond groups' (9). Congregations also occur in swampy forest clearings known as 'bais' (9), where forest elephants usually go looking for minerals (10). Nevertheless, neither of these are anywhere near the size of herds recorded on the African plains (9). Like savanna elephants, however, sound is an important method of communication and forest elephants use low frequency infrasound rumblings that are below the range of human hearing (11). Elephants feed by plucking at grasses and leaves with their trunks, and the diet of the forest elephant is dependent on season (9). During the dry season, they mainly browse on grasses and leaves but in the wet, fruit is preferentially eaten (9). These elephants have a number of highly specialised relationships with forest plant species and there are a number of hard-shelled fruits such as those of the Makore tree that can only be opened and broken down by elephants (8); some fruits are broken by the dextrous use of tusks to pierce the hard outer coat.
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Conservation

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A ban on the international trade in elephant products including ivory was implemented in 1990, when the African elephant was added to Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (3). The logistics of policing ivory poaching in the rainforest, however, are difficult to tackle (13). Beyond the controversy surrounding the taxonomic status of African elephants, there is a clear need for strategies aimed specifically at the forest elephant, to deal with unique factors brought about by its different habitat and largely unknown population sizes (13). To this end, the African Elephant Specialist Group (AfESG) has facilitated the development of a regional strategy for the conservation of elephants in Central Africa (14). This is an encouraging step in helping to secure the future of this elusive and largely forgotten elephant.
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Description

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These forest-dwelling elephants are smaller and darker than their savanna relatives and have smaller and characteristically rounded ears (2). The upper lip and nose are elongated into a trunk that is more hairy than that of the savanna elephants' (6). The trunk serves multiple functions, from acting as a dextrous 5th limb to a sound producer and amplifier, and an important method of touch between individuals (7). The trunk of the African species ends in two opposing processes (or lips), which differs from that of the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), whose trunk ends in a single process (6). The other characteristic elephant feature, the modified upper incisors known as tusks, are generally almost straight and downwardly pointing in the forest elephant, rather than curving forward as they are in the savannah species (2). They are also a more yellow or brownish colour (6); these strong tusks are used to push through the dense undergrowth of their habitat (8). Bull elephants (mature males) are sometimes known to have exceptionally long tusks that reach almost to the ground (2).
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Habitat

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Mainly inhabits lowland tropical rainforest (2).
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Range

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The forest elephant is confined to the dense forests of west and central equatorial Africa, particularly in the Congo basin (8).
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Status

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Classified as Vulnerable (VU A2a) on the IUCN Red List 2004 (1), listed on Appendix II of CITES (3) and Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention) (4). The forest elephant is listed under these as a subspecies of the African elephant (Loxodonta africana). Although preliminary genetic evidence published in 2001 suggests that the African elephant may constitute two distinct species, namely the savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) (1), many conservationists believe there is as yet insufficient evidence to justify this distinction (5), and that premature allocation into more than one species may leave hybrids in an uncertain conservation status (1). For this reason, the Red List assessment is for the single species, encompassing both forest and savanna populations (1). As such, the Red List status for the forest elephant as a separate species is unknown.
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Threats

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Logging in the Central African forest is one of the major threats facing the African forest elephant (8). Although selective logging, the more prevalent form of wood extraction in Central Africa, may actually benefit forest elephants by creating more of their preferred habitat – secondary forest - the construction of roads often associated with logging operations may have a detrimental effect by making these elephants more accessible to poachers and the bushmeat and ivory trade (8). The tusks of this species are more highly prized than that of either the Asian (Elephas maximus) or savanna elephant, as the ivory is harder whilst retaining its elastic properties (9). Other threats include habitat loss through the conversion of land to agriculture and increasing competition for resources with growing human populations (12).
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African forest elephant

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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 still one of the largest living terrestrial animals. The African forest elephant and the African bush elephant, L. africana, were considered to be one species until genetic studies indicated that they separated an estimated 2–7 million years ago.[3] From an estimated population size of over 2 million prior to the colonization of Africa, the population in 2015 is estimated to be about 100,000 forest elephants, mostly living in the forests of Gabon.[4] Due to a slower birth rate, the forest elephant takes longer to recover from poaching, which caused its population to fall by 65% from 2002 to 2014.[5] As of 2014[update], the United States politician and diplomat Hillary Clinton quoted an estimate of the forest elephant becoming extinct by 2024.[6]

Classification

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Skulls of African bush elephant (left) and African forest elephant (right)

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 that the two populations were much more genetically distinct than previously believed.[7] In 2010, a genetic study confirmed they are separate species which diverged from each other an estimated two to seven million years ago.[3][8] Still, many governmental (e.g. USFWS) and non-governmental agencies (e.g. IUCN) consider the forest elephant to be a subspecies for regulatory and conservation purposes. In 2016, DNA sequence analysis showed that L. cyclotis is more closely related to the extinct European straight-tusked elephant, Palaeoloxodon antiquus, than it is to L. africana.[9]

The disputed pygmy elephants of the Congo Basin, formerly considered to be a separate species (Loxodonta pumilio) are probably forest elephants whose diminutive size or early maturity is due to environmental conditions.[10]

Physical Characteristics

Generally, these forest-dwelling elephants are smaller and darker than their savanna relatives, the bush elephants.[11] The species normally has five toenails on the forefoot and four on the hind foot, like the Asian elephant but unlike the African bush elephant which normally has four toenails on the forefoot and three on the hind foot. They also protect themselves from the sun by using sand.

Size

A male African forest elephant rarely exceeds 2.5 m (8.2 ft) in height, considerably smaller than the bush species which is usually over 3 m (9.8 ft) and sometimes almost 4 m (13.1 ft) tall. L. cyclotis reportedly weighs around 2.7 tonnes (5,950 lb), with the largest specimens attaining 6 tonnes (13,230 lb).[12] 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.[13]

Skin

Elephants have sensitive skin which can make them prone to sunburn, especially when young.[14] The wrinkles in the elephants skin help keep them cool by giving heat a larger surface area through which it can dissipate. The creases in the hide of the elephant trap and absorb moisture longer than one with smooth skin; that prolongs the evaporation process, which sanctions the elephant to release up to 75 percent of its body heat. Since these elephants live in areas where temperatures can reach up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 °C) in the daytime, the forest elephants skin is significantly more wrinkled than that of Asian elephants.[15]

Tusks

Compared to the bush elephant, the African forest elephant has a longer, more narrow mandible. Its tusks are straighter and point downward, unlike the savanna elephant, that have curved tusks. They are also harder and have a more yellow or brownish color.[16] These strong tusks are used to push through the dense undergrowth of their habitat and bull elephants (mature males) are sometimes known to have exceptionally long tusks that reach almost to the ground.[11][17][18] Their tusks can grow to approximately 1.5 meters (5 ft) long and can weigh between 50 and 100 pounds (23 and 45 kg), which is around the same size as a small adult human. Males often use their tusks when fighting with one another and to establish dominance.[19]

Trunk

The top lip and nose are elongated into a trunk that is distinctly more hairy than savanna elephants. The trunk, having highly sensitive tactile perception, serves numerous functions. Elephant trunks are more sensitive than human fingers and are used for signaling, detection, drinking and snorkeling through water, sound production and communication, bathing, defense and offense.[14] Their trunk also has over 100,000 individual muscles in it, making it a very strong and useful appendage.[19]

The trunk of this species end in two opposing processes (or lips), which contrasts that of the Asian elephant, whose trunk concludes in a single process.[20]

Ears

Forest elephants have smaller, more rounded ears than the bush elephant. Their ears serve as a cooling system and by simply flapping them, they can reduce their body temperature by up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit (~5.6 degrees Celsius). Air permeates the thin ears of the elephant, thereby cooling blood as it goes through a web of blood vessels inside the ear before going back to the body.[21]

Behaviour

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It has been suggested that this article be split into a new article titled Elephant behaviour. (Discuss) (April 2018)
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Group of African forest elephants digging at a mineral lick

African forest elephants travel in smaller groups than other elephant species. A typical group size consists of 2 to 8 individuals. The average family unit is 3 to 5 individuals, usually made up of female relatives. Most family groups are a mother and several of her offspring, or several groups of females and their offspring that interact with one another, especially at forest clearings. Female offspring are philopatric, male offspring disperse at maturity. Unlike African savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana), African forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) do not usually interact with other family groups. Male African forest elephants tend to be solitary and only associate with other elephants during the mating season. Males have a dominance hierarchy based on size.[18][22][23][24]

Communication

Since the Loxodonta cyclotis species is newly recognized, there is little to no concrete literature on communication and perception. For these mammals, hearing and smell are the most important senses they possess due to the fact that they do not have good eyesight. They can recognize and hear vibrations through the ground and can detect food sources with their sense of smell. Elephants are also an Arrhythmic species, meaning they have the ability to see just as well in dim light as they can in the daylight. They are capable of doing so because the retina in their eye adjusts nearly as quick as light does.[25][26]

The elephants feet are sensitive and can detect vibrations through the ground, whether its thunder or elephant calls from up to ten miles away.[27]

Reproduction

Females reach sexual maturity between the age of 8 and 12 years, depending on the population density and nutrition available. On average, they begin breeding at the age of 23 and give birth every five to six years.[5] As a result, the birth rate is lower than the bush species, which starts breeding at age 12 and has a calf every three to four years.[5] That lengthy time period allows mothers to devote all the attention that the calf needs in order to teach it all the complex tasks that come with being an elephant, such as using their trunk to eat, wash, and drink.

Baby elephants weigh around 232 pounds (105 kg) at birth. Almost immediately, they can already stand up and move around, allowing the mother to roam around and forage, which is also essential to predation. The baby suckles using its mouth while its trunk is held over its head. Their tusks do not come until around 16 months and calves are not weaned until they are roughly 4 or 5 years old. By this time, their tusks are around 14 centimeters long and begin to get in the way of sucking.[24]

Forest elephants have a lifespan of about 60 to 70 years and mature slowly, coming to puberty in their early teens.[24] Males generally pass puberty within the next year or two of females. Between the ages of 15 and 25, males experience "musth," which is a hormonal state they experience marked by increased aggression. The male secretes fluid from the temporal gland between its ear and eye during this time. Younger males often experience musth for a shorter period of time while older males do for a longer time period. When undergoing musth, males have a more erect walk with their head high and tusks inward, they may rub their heads on trees or bushes in order to spread the musth scent, and they may even flap their ears, accompanied by a musth rumble, so that their smell can be blown towards other elephants. The last behavior affiliated with musth is urination. Males allow their urine to slowly come out and spray the insides of their hind legs. All of these behaviors are to advertise to receptive females and competing males they're in the musth state.[28]

The females are polyestrous, which means that they are capable of conceiving multiple times a year, which is a reason as to why they do not appear to have a breeding season. However, there does appear to be a peak in conceptions during the two rainy seasons of the year. Generally, the female conceives after two or three matings. Although the female has plenty of room in her uterus to gestate twins, it is rare for twins to be conceived. The female African forest elephant has a pregnancy that lasts 22 months. Based on the maturity, fertility and gestation rates, the African forest elephants have the capabilities of increasing the species' population size by 5% annually in ideal conditions.[29][30]

Diet and ecological role

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The African forest elephant commonly eats leaves, fruit, and bark

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.[31][32] In Afrotropical forests, many of these plant species are disseminated by forest elephants, sometimes at very long dispersal distances, a mutualism that matters to the population dynamics of plants and to the structure of forest tree communities. Moreover, the rate of seed germination of many forest plant species increases significantly after passage through an elephant’s gut.[33]

Analysis of 855 elephant dung piles suggested that forest elephants disperse more intact seeds than any other species or genus of large vertebrate in African forests, while GPS telemetry data showed that forest elephants regularly disperse seeds over unprecedented distances compared to other dispersers.[34] The African forest elephant was observed opportunistically over a period of seven years between 1984 and 1991 in lowland rain forest in the Lopé Reserve, Gabon. Diet of elephants at Lopé was diverse, including a minimum of 307 items. The bulk of the diet, in terms of number of species and quantities eaten, came from leaves and bark (70% of all items recorded). Trees represented 73% of the species fed upon. In contrast to savanna-living populations, fruit was an important part of the diet. Fruit of at least 72 species is eaten and the remains of at least one species of fruit was found in 82% of 311 fresh dung piles searched over a one-year period.[35]

A unique aspect of the forest elephants ecology is the appeal they have to clearings in the forest, known as "bais" by Central Africans, where they seek minerals and social interactions.[24]

Threats and conservation

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Tridom is a hotspot for poaching of forest elephants

Being the largest land mammal, elephants do not have many natural predators. Rather, humans have proved to be the greatest threat to African forest elephants. While there was a ban on the international trade in elephant products including ivory that was implemented in 1990, when the African elephant was added to Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species,[36] the ivory trade continues to be the reason for countless elephant deaths. Another threat to this species is the prolific logging industry in Central Africa.[17] While selective logging, the more popular practice of extracting wood in Central Africa, may actually benefit forest elephants by creating more of their preferred habitat (secondary forest), the construction of roads used by the logging industry may have a detrimental effect by making these elephants more accessible to poachers as well as the bushmeat and ivory trade.[17] Other threats include habitat loss through the conversion of land to agriculture and increasing competition for resources with growing human populations.[18]

Illegal wildlife trade

Forest elephants are suffering a sharp decline due to poaching for bush meat and ivory for the international ivory trade. Thousands upon thousands of elephants are killed every year to satisfy the illegal international demand for ivory.[37] Around 62% of forest elephants have been slaughtered for their ivory in the last decade alone.[38]

Poaching

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.[39][40] 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.[41] In May 2013, Sudanese poachers invaded the Central African Republic's Dzanga Bai World Heritage Site and killed 26 elephants.[42][43] Communications equipment, video cameras, and additional training of park guards were provided following the massacre to improve protection of the site.[44] In September 2013, it was estimated that the forest elephant could become extinct within ten years.[6] From mid-April to mid-June 2014, poachers killed 68 elephants in Garamba National Park, including young ones without tusks.[45] According to DNA tests, most forest elephants are poached in Tridom, a border region of Gabon, the Republic of the Congo, and Cameroon.[46][47] At the request of President Ali Bongo Ondimba, twelve British soldiers traveled to Gabon in 2015 to assist in training park rangers following the poaching of many elephants in Minkebe National Park.[48]

There is no ivory that is more desirable than that of the forest elephant. That is due to the fact that ivory that comes from savanna and Asian elephants is softer than the forest elephants. The harder ivory of the forest elephant makes for more enhanced carving and demands a heavier price on the black market. This preference is best evident in Japan; this is where harder ivory has nearly monopolized the trade for some time. Premium quality bachi, a traditional Japanese plucking tool used for string instruments, are contrived exclusively from forest elephants tusks.[49]

In the impenetrable and often trackless expanses of the rain forests of the Congo Basin, poaching is extremely difficult to detect and track. Levels of off-take, for the most part, are estimated from ivory seizures. As protection in East and Southern Africa become more effective, where there are anti-poaching teams and monitoring with small planes for surveillance, the scarcely populated and unprotected forests in Central Africa are most likely becoming increasingly alluring to organized poachers.[49]

Bushmeat trade

It is not ivory alone that drives forest elephant poaching, killing for bushmeat in Central Africa has evolved into an international business in recent decades with markets reaching New York and other major cities of the United States; and the industry is still on the rise. This illegal market poses the greatest threat not only to forest elephants where hunters can target elephants of all ages, including babies, but to all of the larger species in the forests.[49]

There are actions that can be taken to lower the incentive for supplying to the bushmeat market. Regional markets, and the international trade, require the transporting of extensive amounts of animal meat which, in turn, requires the utilization of vehicles. Having checkpoints on major roads and railroads can potentially help disrupt commercial networks.[49]

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.[50]

Observation

African forest elephants are estimated to constitute up to one-third of the continent's elephant population, but have been poorly studied because of the difficulty in observing them through the dense vegetation that makes up their habitat.[51] Thermal imaging has facilitated observation of the species, leading to more information on their ecology, numbers, and behavior, including their interactions with elephants and other species. Scientists have learned more about how the elephants, who have poor night vision, negotiate their environment using only their hearing and olfactory senses. They also appeared to be much more active sexually during night compared to the day, which was unexpected.[29][30]

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African forest elephant: Brief Summary

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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 still one of the largest living terrestrial animals. The African forest elephant and the African bush elephant, L. africana, were considered to be one species until genetic studies indicated that they separated an estimated 2–7 million years ago. From an estimated population size of over 2 million prior to the colonization of Africa, the population in 2015 is estimated to be about 100,000 forest elephants, mostly living in the forests of Gabon. Due to a slower birth rate, the forest elephant takes longer to recover from poaching, which caused its population to fall by 65% from 2002 to 2014. As of 2014[update], the United States politician and diplomat Hillary Clinton quoted an estimate of the forest elephant becoming extinct by 2024.

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