Forest Elephant Conservation

Forest elephant conservation is really in its infancy and the survival of this species requires action to reduce rampant poaching, to increase true protection in national parks and reserves, and to deal with increasing human-elephant conflict through education and management.

There is no doubt that there are serious threats to the forest elephant. Part of the litany is familiar: poaching for ivory, loss of habitat, encroaching human populations. But Loxodonta cyclotis is threatened in addition by expanding resource extraction, hunting for bushmeat that supplies an increasingly international market, and a human population that will increase dramatically in coming decades. However, while the picture is grim, there is considerable hope for forest elephants.

© Katy Payne

Forest elephants create paths through the
forest that are used by many other animals
....and humans.

Most forest elephants are found in the rainforests of the Congo Basin of Central Africa, though they still occur in low numbers in West Africa, part of their former range. The Congo Basin sustains the earth's second largest rainforest, and human population density is relatively low across the region. Elephants here are not confined to protected areas, but roam across a landscape that takes them from designated national parks and reserves, through largely intact forest slated for exploitation, to the very edges of human population centers. Forest elephant populations are still quite strong in some areas and we believe they are the only elephant with a real chance of continuing to live in normal ecosystems, ranging more or less normally, and maintaining the complex system of social interactions they have evolved over millions of years.

Forest elephants are the primary disperser of numerous rainforest plants, ensuring gene flow and forest biodiversity. They create resources like paths and forest clearings that many other animals also depend on.

We know that these elephants are important, but our overall knowledge of their ecology is very limited. There are myriad ways that elephants might be keystones in the arch of rainforest biodiversity. We can't afford to find out about these unknown roles only after they have gone - conservation is key.



Estimates of the total number of forest elephants range from a low of about 24,000 to a high of about 209,000. The dramatic difference between these estimates of their numbers underscores the need for better understanding of this species in the face of alarming evidence about current trends in habitat loss and poaching.

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Courtesy WCS - Gabon

Langoué Bai in Ivindo N.P. Gabon. The 'bulls eye'
is where the main mineral pits are located.
Lowland gorillas, sitatunga, and numerous
birds also depend on clearings like this one.