The origins of the forest elephant
The forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) has long been considered a subspecies of the savannah elephant. Scientists have finally decided. It is indeed a distinct species as DNA analyzes have shown. However, the two species can interbreed and produce hybrids. According to paleogenetics, the savannah and forest elephants of Africa separated around 5 to 2 million years ago. For the past 500,000 years, they have lived isolated from each other and have not crossed paths. DNA analysis of the straight-tusked forest elephant (Paleoloxodon antiquus), which lived in Europe 120,000 years ago, has shown that Loxodonta cyclotis is closest to it, and not the savannah elephant. The height at the withers of the forest elephant is on average 2.40 m. It is therefore much smaller than the elephants living in the savannah (3.50 m). The forest elephant also has thicker brown hair and rounded ears. As its name suggests, the African forest elephant lives in the rainforests of Africa and plays an important role in the seed dispersal of many plants.
The African forest elephant inhabits the forests of the Congo Basin
The African forest elephant is native to the rainforests of West Africa and the Congo Basin. It is the smallest of the three living elephant species. Both sexes have straight, downward-pointing tusks, which burst when they are 1–3 years old. It lives in family groups of up to 20 individuals. Its diet consists of leaves, seeds, fruits and tree bark. It contributes significantly to the maintenance of the composition and structure of the Guinean forests of West Africa and the Congolese rainforests. The first scientific description of the species was published in 1900. Over the course of the 20th century, overhunting led to a sharp decline in the population, and in 2013 it was estimated that fewer than 30,000 individuals remained. The conservation status of populations varies between range countries. As of 2021, the species is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. The ‘critically endangered’ forest elephant
A "critically endangered" species.
It is threatened by habitat loss, fragmentation and poaching. The ivory trade to Asia is the primary cause of the illegal killing of elephants. The African savannah elephant, its cousin, is considered “endangered”. The forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis), smaller than its savannah cousin, lives mainly in the forests of Central and West Africa. Its population has dropped by 86% in 30 years and it is now considered critically endangered. For its part, the savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana) have seen their population reduced by at least 60% in the last 50 years, and are classified as “endangered”.
Forest Elephant Behavior
Much information about the forest elephant’s lifestyle comes from animals in the Dzanga Sangha Conservation Area, where corresponding studies were initiated in 1990. Like the savannah elephant, the forest elephant is a social animal. On average, a herd consists of three individuals. In the area of forest clearings, which represent important social contact points, larger herds of 20 to 100 animals may also gather. However, they disintegrate again relatively quickly. This social system, known as fission-fusion, is also found in the savannah African elephant. In contrast, forest elephant groups are smaller and less stable, which is related to the lower distribution of potential predators in dense forests.
Size of groups
The size of family groups can vary depending on the habitat. For example, in Odzala National Park in the Republic of Congo, herds with fewer individuals on average than in more open landscapes have been observed. Also unlike the savannah elephant, forest elephant males rarely form bachelor groups, but younger males sometimes live communally. The males carry out their social competitions and struggles for dominance especially in the clearings. There are also solitary elephants of both sexes and almost all age groups. The forest elephant is active during the day, resting for about four hours a day. A shorter resting phase takes place during the day, a longer one at night. According to observations in the Dzanga Sangha Conservation Area, the greatest activity takes place between 12:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.
Area of habitat zone
The main circadian rhythm consists of searching for food and migrating to the different activity zones. Individual animals travel up to 25 km in 48 hours, but on the whole the migratory movements do not last as long as for the savannah elephant. During its travels, the forest elephant creates paths that extend over several kilometers and connect the various activity points with each other. Well-used trails can be more than 1 m wide. Herds and solitaries use activity zones that cover an area of 500 km² and more. The average home range size, based on more than a dozen individuals examined, is about 713 km² in the Wonga Wongué Presidential Reserve in Gabon. Male animals move on average over an area of 965 km², which is almost three times larger than that of females with 354 km². In the Congo Basin, animals change daily between different types of vegetation: from tropical rainforests to open grasslands. As a result, they travel about 7 to 8 km in 24 hours, which corresponds to an annual migration of 2840 km. They spend two-thirds of their time in tropical rainforests. The rest of their time in open grassy areas. The forests are mainly visited during the day during the period of sunshine, which is why the animals mainly choose areas with a high density of trees and brush.
Forest elephant communication system
Communication between forest elephants occurs via different vocalizations. Like other elephants, the forest elephant also has excellent hearing and is able to make and perceive low frequency sounds down to 5 Hz. most common of the forest elephant. It serves in particular to communicate between them, to locate the members of the herd and to coordinate the common migration. Low frequency sounds allow communication over long distances. In addition to the well-known trumpeting, there is a whole palette of higher frequency sounds. Most combined sounds are emitted at night. During the Expeditions Ducret, we suggest you spend a night on the edges of a clearing frequented by elephants. You will then be able to witness the intense communication of elephants at night. Find more information on the safari cruises page.