The African Elephant is a remarkable species. Known for their long lives and memories that span generations, they are the largest animal to walk the Earth today. Their hide can be several inches thick, and their tusks can grow to several feet long. They use their trunk for communication and handling objects, and their large ears radiate excess heat. They are truly remarkable creatures.
African elephants are made of two groups: the Savanna Elephant and the Forest Elephant. Savanna Elephants are larger and their tusks curve outwards while Forest Elephants are smaller and darker with tusks that are straighter and pointed downward. There is a general consensus amongst taxonomists that the two are distinct species, but the official classification is yet to be made.
African Elephants, for the most part, have no natural predators and very rarely will a lion pride take on a fully grown adult. However, without their mothers by their side, young elephant calves can make for an easy target. As a result, they tend to stick in matriarchal herds with adult male bulls tending to roam on their own.
African Elephants once roamed across the great plains and forests of Africa, numbering in the millions. But in 2016, there were estimated to be a mere 415,000 wild elephants left (1). With between 20-50,000 elephants poached every year (2) their population is almost certainly lower by now. African Elephants now occupy just 62% of their possible range (1) with approximately 30% of their present habitat under formal protection (3).
Elephant populations have been hit hardest in central and eastern Africa where central African Forest Elephant populations reduced by as much as 62% between 2002 and 2011 (4). It’s thought that these forest populations suffered the worst as they were the hardest to monitor and protect. After the steep decline in those populations, poachers had to look elsewhere. As a result, 100,000 elephants on the Eastern African savannahs were killed between 2010 and 2012 (2).
The South Africa region now holds about 70% of the continents' elephants, located mainly in Botswana. Eastern Africa holds 20%, Central Africa holds 6%, and West Africa holds 3%. Nations with the worst fulfillment of possible elephant range are often nations recovering from recent war such as Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Project Elephant is developed to dramatically increase the continents overall and protected range and to help spread populations from present strongholds in southern African nations to areas where elephants once roamed free.
1) Thouless, C.R., Dublin, H.T., Blanc, J.J., Skinner, D.P., Daniel, T.E., Taylor, R.D. and Bouché, P., 2016. African Elephant Status Report 2016: an update from the African Elephant Database. Occasional Paper Series of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, (60).
2) Wittemyer, G., Northrup, J.M., Blanc, J., Douglas-Hamilton, I., Omondi, P. and Burnham, K.P., 2014. Illegal killing for ivory drives global decline in African elephants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(36), pp.13117-13121.
3) Blanc, J.J., 2007. African elephant status report 2007: an update from the African elephant database (No. 33). Iucn.
4) Maisels, F., Strindberg, S., Blake, S., Wittemyer, G., Hart, J., Williamson, E.A., Aba’a, R., Abitsi, G., Ambahe, R.D., Amsini, F. and Bakabana, P.C., 2013. Devastating decline of forest elephants in Central Africa. PloS one, 8(3), p.e59469.