African Forest Elephant
African forest elephant closely resembles African bush elephant. In fact, until recently, these two species were considered to be the same. However, they have a number of differences: thus, they differ in the size and shape of the skull and skeleton; African forest elephant is noticeably smaller than African bush elephant; its ears are more oval-shaped; the tusk of this species is straighter and point downward, unlike the that of African bush elephant, which is curved outwards; this animal possesses 5 toenails on each of its front limbs and 4 toenails on each hind limb, whereas African bush elephant exhibits 4 toenails on each front limb and 3 - on each hind limb.
The area of this species' distribution covers a vast territory in central and western Africa. African forest elephants occur in northern Congo, southwestern Central African Republic, the southeast coast of Gabon, southern Ghana and Cote D'Ivoire. They are known to move between habitats seasonally: thus, during the dry season, they are found in swampy areas, while during the wet season, they usually inhabit lowland rainforests.
Habits and lifestyle
African forest elephants are social animals. Their groups consist of 2 - 8 individuals and are usually smaller than these of other elephants. Meanwhile, family units consist of 3 - 5 elephants on average, which are often female relatives: a female with her offspring or several females and their offspring. Reaching maturity, male calves leave the group, whereas females are philopatric, remaining in their family group. Groups of this species avoid each other, as opposed to these of the African savanna elephant. Males live under a size-based dominance hierarchy. They live alone and socialize only when mating. The most common form of communication in these elephants is low calls. These vocalizations are perceived by conspecifics through several kilometers of dense jungle. However, they are too low to be heard by human ear.
herd, memory, parade
Diet and nutrition
The diet of these herbivorous animals primarily consists of vegetation such as grass, leaves, bark and fruit.
African forest elephants have a polygynous mating system, where males compete for their mating rights. Meanwhile, older, larger and more dominant males are usually more successful. They can mate year-round with peak period, occurring during the wet season. Gestation period lasts for 20 - 22 months, yielding a single baby, rarely - twins. The calf is nursed by its mother for 6.5 years. Within the first year of its life, the baby starts eating vegetation along with maternal milk. Male calves often nurse more than females. Hence, females of a group practice allosuckling, nursing offspring of another female. Age of sexual maturity hugely depends on climate, environment and diet. Male elephants reach maturity within 11 - 14 years, but successfully breed only when they are older, larger and more experienced. Age of maturity in females varies between 9 and 22, though most of them are mature at 11 - 14 years old.
Year-round, peak occurres during the wet season
One of the biggest threats of the African forest elephant is poaching for bushmeat and ivory: the latter has such a huge demand in the illegal market, that tens of thousands of elephants are killed each year for ivory only. Furthermore, the Vulnerable animals currently suffer from fragmentation and loss of their natural habitat due to commercial logging, plantations for biofuels as well as logging, mining and other extractive industries, which allow poachers to enter remote elephant forests. Nowadays, elephants more and more often come into conflict with humans as a result of habitats contract and human populations’ extension: in some parts of their range, elephants damage crops and villages, which are adjacent to their habitat or cross their migration corridors. As a general rule, elephants are the ones that lose these conflicts. However, mortality occurs among both animals and humans: people are occasionally trampled when trying to defend their property, while elephants are frequently shot by game guards.
According to the Wikipedia resource, the total population size of the African forest elephant today is less than 100,000 individuals, with about half of the remaining population in Gabon. Currently, this species is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List, and its numbers are increasing.
Fun facts for kids
- The word "elephant" derives from “elephas”, meaning "ivory" in Greek.
- Elephants are highly intelligent animals! They are able to demonstrate grief, altruism, compassion, self-awareness, play, art and music.
- One of the most famous elephants of all times was Jumbo. Its name is believed to originate from a Swahili word, meaning ‘boss’ or ‘chief’. Presently, the word 'jumbo' is commonly used as another synonym of 'huge'.
- The hippocampus (a part of brain, which is responsible for emotion and spatial awareness) of elephants is the most developed among all animals in the world.
- According to studies, the ability of elephants to keep track of various objects in 3D space in even better that that of humans.
- In spite of what we can see in some movies, elephants do not like peanuts.
- These careful animals can often be seen standing over their sleeping babies and obscuring the sun as well as dousing their calves in sand: this is done to protect their offspring from the scorching sun.
- Elephants are fond of swimming! When in deep water, they breathe through their trunks, which act as snorkels.