Forest elephant } Loxodonta cyclotis

FAMILY: Elephantidae

DESCRIPTION: Forest elephants are the smaller of the two African elephant species. They also have straighter, thinner tusks, more rounded ears and differently shaped skulls. Both elephant species exhibit sexual dimorphism, where males are larger than females, with wider-set tusks, more rounded foreheads and less curvature in their spines.

HABITAT: Forest elephants occupy the rainforests of West and Central Africa.

RANGE: The majority of remaining forest elephant populations occur in Central Africa, in the countries of Gabon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of Congo, Central Africa Republic and Cameroon. Other small populations occur in West Africa in the forested regions of C te d'Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Guinea and Liberia.

BREEDING: The breeding strategies for forest and savannah elephants are assumed to be mostly the same. Reproductive rates for both species are considered one of the slowest and most energy-intensive. In optimal conditions elephants may reproduce at a rate of 6 percent. Elephants have the longest gestation period of any animal at 22 months, and twinning is rare, though it does happen. Elephants do not reach sexual maturity until they are between 14 and 17 years old, most males, however, are mostly unsuccessful at mating until they are much older, and females may only conceive every three to nine years.

LIFE CYCLE: Forest elephants may live to be up to 70 years old.

FEEDING: Forest elephants are generalists that feed on trees, shrubs, grasses, herbs and fruits, depending on their ability. They may spend 70 to 90 percent of their days foraging, consuming 100 to 300 kilograms of food. Living in the rainforests allows forest elephants the luxury of being highly frugivorous, and the seed dispersal provided by them is crucial to the maintenance of tree diversity in Central Africa — which houses the world's second largest rainforest.

THREATS: Forest elephants are threatened by historical and current rampant poaching, trade pressures, habitat conversion due to the expansion of natural resource extraction and logging, and civil unrest.

POPULATION TREND: Forest elephants have declined by over 62 percent in just nine years (2002-2011), and by 80 percent in two elephant generations (ca. 25 years). Fewer than 100,000 are estimated to remain, which is 10 percent of their estimated historical abundance. As poaching continues unabated, and interest in extracting Central Africa's resources increases while high levels of corruption hinder conservation efforts, forest elephant populations become increasingly at risk.

Forest elephant photo courtesy Flickr/janhamlet