Why do some elephants die of hunger?

African forest elephant in the species lexicon

African forest elephants are nowhere near as well researched as African savanna elephants. On the one hand, the political situation in many of its distribution countries has been unstable in recent years and decades and parts of the distribution area have therefore been impassable. On the other hand, it makes her life in secret particularly difficult to examine her.

African forest elephants look very similar to African savanna elephants. The few features that distinguish them include the lower shoulder height, a flatter forehead area, the smaller and more rounded ears, the less curved tusks and the smoother skin.

It is also believed that the closely related African elephants' way of life is similar in many ways. The most striking difference is that the forest elephant cows form smaller core groups than the females of the savannah elephants. The families of the forest elephants meet in the swampy forest clearings, the so-called bais, which are typical of their habitat. This is where important interactions take place.

Just like the savannah elephants, forest elephants are poached for their tusks. A few centuries ago, ivory was so popular and expensive that it was also called the “white gold” of elephants. The ivory of the forest elephants is particularly valuable due to its greater compactness. In their habitat, the poachers also benefit from the cover of the dense rainforests during their raids. In many regions of its range, the populations of African forest elephants have therefore plummeted in recent years.


African forest elephant in wanted poster

relationshipOrder of the proboscis, family of elephants, the latest scientific findings show that African forest and savanna elephants are two separate species
sizeMales significantly larger than females, 6 to 7.5 m in length from the tip of the trunk to the base of the tail, shoulder height in males up to 2.86 m and in females up to 2.4 m

up to 2.7 t, males significantly heavier than females

particularitiesthird largest elephant species, long trunk, males and females have tusks, large ears, very similar to African savannah elephants
Social organizationMales and females are socially organized differently, females live in small family groups, several families form communities, males mostly live alone
ReproductionGestation period of around 22 months, the longest gestation period in mammals
Young animalsone cub per birth, fleeing nest, suckled for up to four years, close mother-child bond for at least eight years
Life expectancyup to 70 years in the wild
Geographical distributionSub-Saharan Central and West Africa, mainly Congo Basin
habitattropical rainforests, as "seed taxis" and "gardeners of the rainforest", play an important role in their ecosystem
nutritionHerbivores, prefer fruits, otherwise feed on leaves, roots, bark, seeds and other parts of plants, nutritional supplement with mineral soil

Stock size

Estimated <100,000 individuals (as of 2021), trend: decreasing
Endangerment status"Critically Endangered" (International Red List)

Where are African forest elephants classified in the zoological system?

Of orders, families, and types

The African forest elephant belongs to the order of the proboscis and to the Family of elephants. The line of the proboscis broke off from the other mammals very early in the course of evolution and encompassed them as a whole more than 175 kinds, including the mammoths. However, the elephants are the only trunk animals that have survived up to our time. Your closest recent relatives are them Hyrax and manatees

The family of elephants includes today two genera with three species, the genus Loxodonta with the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) and the African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the genus Elephas with the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus).

What do African forest elephants look like?

Features, properties and special features

Elephants are the largest land creatures in the world. African forest elephants are smaller than African savanna elephants and Asian elephants. Elephants have a massive body, short neck, large head, and strong legs. The back of the African elephant is concave and is called the saddle back. The shoulder corresponds to the highest point of the back. The males, the so-called elephant bulls, are significantly larger and heavier than the females, the so-called elephant cows. The head-trunk length of the African forest elephant measures six to 7.5 meters from the tip of the trunk to the base of the tail, like that of savanna elephants. The tail is around one to 1.5 meters long. The shoulder height is up to 2.86 meters in males and up to 2.4 meters in females. African forest elephants weigh 2.7 to six tons. After childhood and adolescence, elephants are not fully grown, but continue to grow moderately in height and length into old age. Especially the bulls gain body mass for decades in adulthood.

Characteristic features of the elephant include the trunk, tusks and large ears. In elephants, the upper lip and nose are transformed into a long trunk. There are no bones or cartilages in the whole trunk. It consists exclusively of muscles. Thousands of muscle strands enable the elephants to have very precise fine motor skills. At the same time, the trunk is extremely powerful. African elephants have two grasping fingers on the tip of their trunk. The trunk is used for breathing, smelling, grasping, sucking, touching, as a shower, for tactile, visual and vocal communication, as a snorkel, as a weapon and as a tool.

Elephants have two types of teeth, tusks and molars. The tusks are two converted incisors of the upper jaw that are very long in both sexes in African elephants. Those of the males are slightly larger than those of the females. The tusks are rootless. The first third is in the so-called tooth socket inside the jaw, the other two thirds protrude forward out of the mouth. The basal part of the tusks is hollow and filled with tissue rich in blood vessels and nerves. The cavity tapers towards the tip of the tooth. The tusks grow throughout life. The substance of the elephant tusks is called ivory. The tusks serve as tools and weapons for the elephants.

Another special feature of the elephant bite is the so-called horizontal change of the molars. The molars wear out a lot when the food is ground. In the upper and lower jaw halves, African elephants each have six to seven molars and a total of 24 to 28 molars. Of these, however, only one tooth and a total of four teeth are used for each half of the jaw. From the back of the jaw, the next four molars slide continuously forward until the last set of molars is used up at around 60 to 65 years of age. The elephants can then no longer take in food and die.

The large, thin and well-perfused ears of the elephants have a very large surface. Therefore, in addition to communication, they also serve for thermoregulation.

All elephants are tip-toe. African forest elephants have five toes on their front feet and four on their hind feet, which is one more toe per foot than savannah elephants. Soft pads made of subcutaneous fatty tissue sit under the feet and between the toes, which act as shock absorbers. When elephants run, they leave large, round prints. The imprint of the forefoot is almost circular, while that of the hind feet is more oval.

Together with rhinos, hippos and tapirs, elephants are counted among the so-called "pachyderms", the skin of which can be up to five centimeters thick in some places, such as the shoulders. The skin of the African forest elephant is gray to gray-brown in color, overall somewhat darker than that of the savannah elephants and predominantly hairless. Her thin tail ends with a tuft of hair on top.

Large animals such as elephants have a relatively small body surface area compared to their body mass. This makes it harder for them to give off excess heat, which makes it difficult to regulate body temperature. When it is hot, elephants wet their bodies with liquid to cool off, for example by showering with their trunk. Regular mud and dust baths also create a layer of thick clay. In this way they protect themselves from solar radiation, but also from insects and parasites.

The migration speed of elephants is up to six kilometers per hour. Despite their enormous body mass, elephants can run pretty fast if need be. They are also good swimmers. When diving, the trunk serves as a snorkel.

African and Asian elephants can be easily distinguished from one another based on a few characteristics. In relation to the head, African elephants have significantly larger ears, a concave back line and two grasping extensions at the tip of the trunk. African elephants have long tusks protruding from their mouths in both males and females. In relation to the head, Asian elephants have significantly smaller ears, a convex back line and only one grasping extension at the tip of the trunk. They only have long tusks sticking out of their mouths in males. Furthermore, there are numerous, at first glance less noticeable differences between the two genera.

The similarity to African savanna elephants, however, is greater and there are few features that distinguish the two species. African forest elephants are slightly smaller and often have a shoulder height up to one meter lower than African savanna elephants. In addition, many body parts of forest elephants are more or less rounded, while in savannah elephants they appear more angular and angular. On the contrary, the tusks of the African forest elephants are less curved than those of the African savanna elephants. In addition, the tusks of the forest elephants are thinner than those of the savannah elephants and their ivory is more compact and therefore harder. The forehead area of ​​the forest elephant is somewhat flatter than that of the savannah elephant. The ears are relatively smaller and rounder in shape. The back of the saddle is less pronounced than that of savanna elephants. In addition, the skin of the forest elephant is smoother and even less hairy than that of the savanna elephant. In the few areas in Central Africa where the distribution areas of the African forest and savanna elephants overlap, hybridization also gives rise to hybrid forms.

How do African forest elephants live?

The social organization, activity and communication

African forest elephants are nowhere near as well researched as African savanna elephants. On the one hand, the political situation in many of its distribution countries has been unstable in recent years and decades and parts of the distribution area have therefore been impassable. On the other hand, it makes her life in secret particularly difficult to examine her. Many observations of African forest elephants have been made in forest clearings, the so-called bais, especially on the Dzanga-Bai in the Dzanga Sangha Conservation Area in the Central African Republic. Overall, it is assumed that the way of life of the two closely related species shows significant differences. The most striking difference is that the forest elephant cows form smaller core groups than the females of the savannah elephants, whose herds are led by a lead cow.

In elephants, males and females are socially organized differently. Cow elephants live in groups that are organized in several stages in a so-called fission-fusion model. As the number of members of the units increases from level to level, the intensity of the bonds between members decreases from level to level. The groups of the different levels meet regularly and then go their own way again. Families made up of a mother and their offspring form the basic units. In the case of African forest elephants, these number an average of three family members, but can also consist of up to seven individuals. The females maintain bonds of varying strength with other females and are in close contact with them. Allied female elephants support each other, especially when it comes to raising their young. The swampy bais are especially important meeting places for the forest elephant families. As with savannah elephants, there is probably a hierarchy among female forest elephants, whereby the individual rank depends on age, experience, body size and social skills.

In contrast to the females, the males of the elephants are more or less solitary. While in the savannah elephants they sometimes roam in small groups, the group formation seems to be very rare in the bulls of the forest elephants. In any case, the bonds between the males are much weaker than with the females. There is also a ranking among the males in a region, which depends on size and strength. High-ranking forest elephant bulls occupy a bay, which they defend against other males, and thus have easier access to females who are ready to mate. Lower-ranking bulls, on the other hand, like savanna elephants, have to roam around in the area in search of sexual mates. Bull elephants come regularly to the so-called musth. Musth is a condition that is triggered by a testosterone surge and lasts for some time. Secretion from the temple glands and constant dripping of urine indicate the musth. During this time the cops are very aggressive and aggressive. Reproduction is very important in the musth.

The size of the roaming areas in African forest elephants can be very different and covers an average of around 500 square kilometers. African forest elephants, like savannah elephants, are active around 20 hours a day and cover several kilometers a day. Their main motives are the search for food, especially the irregularly available ripe fruit, and visits to the Bais for mineral supply and social contacts, as well as avoiding interference from people. The forays of the forest elephants leave an extensive network of trails in the dense rainforests. The elephants use the same paths again and again, which connect their most important places by the shortest route and serve as spatial orientation. Studies on the migration behavior of forest elephants show that they often move in a star shape around a bay. African forest elephants as well as savannah elephants take a shorter break at lunchtime and sleep longer after midnight. While the forest elephants on the Bais originally romped around during the day, their behavior has adapted to that of humans. In order not to be disturbed and especially by poaching, they only visit the Bais at night.

Elephants are among the most intelligent animals there are. They have big, complex brains. The brains of the African forest elephants are among the largest of all land creatures living and ever lived on earth. The cerebral cortex of the elephant brain has a particularly large surface. Elephants have a great learning capacity, an enormous long-term memory and the ability to empathize. They can distinguish their conspecifics and recognize related and friendly elephants even after a long time and in different situations. In addition, every elephant has a unique character that makes it unmistakable.

Elephants have a wide range of different modes of communication. This includes acoustic communication, chemical communication via messenger substances, touch, body language and infrasound. Elephants may also communicate using seismic vibrations. When excited, elephants trumpet with their trunks. The noise produced is very loud and relatively high-frequency compared to their other sounds. On the other hand, humans can hardly hear their infrasound sounds with a maximum frequency of 20 Hertz. The elephants produce the low-frequency tones with the vocal folds of the larynx. The sound waves are then sent across the ground and received by pressure receptors in the feet and the tip of the trunk. Welcoming ceremonies between familiar elephants include a ritualized "kissing". Along with some primates, marine mammals and bats, elephants are one of the few mammals that have the ability to learn voices. So not only do you have a genetic repertoire, but you can also imitate and learn sounds. When in danger, elephants put their big ears on the side so that they look even bigger from the front.The waving of the ears, on the other hand, has no communicative meaning and is used for thermoregulation.

What is known about the reproduction of African forest elephants?

From mating through the development of the young to adulthood

The reproduction of the African forest elephant seems to be very similar to that of the savannah elephants in general. Young forest elephants reach sexual maturity around their early teenage years. It appears that African forest elephants begin to reproduce a little later than savanna elephants. According to a study in the Central African Republic, primiparous forest elephants have an average age of around 23 years. Depending on the region of the distribution area, the mating season depends on the seasonal availability of food and access to minerals. Bais, which are typically occupied by high-ranking forest elephant bulls, may play a major role in finding sexual partners. Lower-ranking males, on the other hand, roam the area in search of females ready to mate.

Copulation is physically demanding and difficult for elephants. The female's vagina is located on the belly between the hind legs and is difficult for the males to reach. For sexual intercourse, the males have to get on the backs of the females and position their long, flexible penis. Mating requires the cooperation of the female. Younger bulls need some practice to successfully mate a female.

The gestation period of the African forest elephant, like that of the savanna elephant, lasts around 22 months and is the longest gestation period that mammals have. At birth, the elephant cows bend their hind legs a little so that the birth opening is just above the ground and the newborn baby lands on the ground as gently as possible. The baby elephants can stand shortly after birth and take their first steps a little later. So the family can go looking for food again after a few days at the latest.

In the first one or two weeks of life, the newborns sometimes trip over their own trunk and must first learn to carry it skillfully. The elephant calves are fed exclusively with mother's milk for the first three months. In total, they are suckled by their mothers for up to four years. The two mammary glands of the female elephant are, as in humans, on the thoracic chest between the front legs. The baby elephants suck their nipples with their mouths and not with their trunks. The fathers are not involved in raising the young.

Only when the offspring become independent do the females get the next calf after around four to five years. This means that the age difference between the siblings is somewhat larger than that of savannah elephants. Up to an age of around eight years, the young animals spend most of the time within a few meters of the mother. Young males leave their families at the onset of adulthood. In the first time as loners, they first have to fight for a place in the ranking of the neighboring males. Older bulls are an important role model for the younger ones. The life expectancy of the African forest elephant is like that of the other elephants about 60 to 70 years.

Where do African forest elephants live?

Their area of ​​distribution then and now

African forest elephants were once widespread in Sub-Saharan Central and West Africa and are still mainly found in the Congo Basin in Central Africa and occasionally in the rainforest of West Africa. You are in Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Cameroon, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Republic of Liberia, Republic of Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Home to Togo and the Central African Republic. The remaining distribution area is partially fragmented, so that some subpopulations hardly have the opportunity to exchange. The largest contiguous populations are still in Gabon, in the north of the Republic of the Congo and in the south of Cameroon. Many areas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the other hand, were poached empty by the ivory trade during colonial times. In West Africa there are only a few, very small, highly fragmented stocks. In the Gambia, the African forest elephants became extinct in 1913.

In which habitat do African forest elephants occur?

African forest elephants inhabit the tropical rainforests of central and west Africa. They occur in remote primary forests as well as in secondary forests and mosaics from pieces of rainforest and savannah. A characteristic feature of the rainforests in some areas of the Congo Basin are the bais. In the drier season, the African forest elephants prefer to stay in the swampy regions, while in the rainy season they roam through the less humid areas of the lowland rainforests. Overall, African forest elephants mainly occur where they are influenced as little as possible by humans.

Elephants are so-called key species in their habitat. Many plants depend mainly or exclusively on elephants as "seed taxis" for spreading. Because African forest elephants eat a larger proportion of fruit than savanna elephants and Asian elephants, they also play a greater role in the distribution of seeds. While other fruit-eating animals mainly spread smaller seeds over shorter distances, African forest elephants sow the seeds over their dung within a radius of up to 57 kilometers. With a seed dispersal rate of up to 346 seeds per square kilometer per day, African forest elephants are among the most effective seed dispersers in the tropics. Another aspect is that forest elephants contribute to the preservation of forest clearings and perhaps even to their formation and thus give themselves and many other forest animals access to mineral-rich soils that they need for food supplements. The bais are also important meeting places for other large mammals such as gorillas and ungulates. Ultimately, African forest elephants, as “gardeners of the rainforest”, contribute to preserving biodiversity and important habitats through their way of life and diet. The protection of biodiversity is a fundamentally important ecosystem service that also benefits people.

How do African forest elephants feed?

Everything about their food and diet

Elephants are generalist herbivores. They eat all regionally and seasonally available plants and parts of plants such as leaves, roots, bark, stems, grasses, fruits and seeds. Depending on the season and the level of growth of the individual plants, the elephants prefer different parts of them. African forest elephants feed on the vegetation of their habitat, preferring to eat fruit and supplement their diet with trace elements, which they can take up in the form of mineral soil on the Bais or at some water points. In the tropics, fruits ripen asynchronously seasonally. The time at which the fruit ripens is species-specific. The availability of fruits is constantly changing. In addition, the spatial distribution is unevenly in contrast to the other foods of the elephants, which can be found more or less everywhere and evenly distributed. Sometimes the forest elephants have to travel long distances in order to regularly find ripe fruits. The search for fruits is mainly done through the sense of smell. While there is no grass to eat in the rainforests, the African forest elephants can only find it on the edges of the range at the transition to the savannah countries. Many parts of the plant that belong to the elephants' range of forage plants contain toxins that the elephants cannot break down. Instead, they get around this problem by satisfying their hunger with many different plants and so ingesting only smaller amounts of each individual poison. African whale elephants also seem to have a preference for secondary forests. Possibly this is related to the lower canopy and thus easier to reach fruits as well as less toxins in the secondary vegetation. Overall, African forest elephants have the largest range of forage plants known to exist in mammals. In the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of the Congo alone, forest elephants feed on at least 500 different plant species. When procuring food, the tusks and the proboscis are used as tools, for example for debarking trees and breaking off branches. With the help of the grasping fingers on the tip of the trunk, elephants can even crack nuts. To get at minerals, the forest elephants dig large holes in the ground with their feet and tusks, which then fill with groundwater. The minerals then go into solution and are absorbed when you drink.

In contrast to that of many savannah elephants, water is abundantly available in the habitat of forest elephants. You drink once or several times a day. They suck in water with their proboscis and then inject it into their mouths.

How many African forest elephants are there?

Their existence in the past, present and future

African forest elephants are particularly difficult to count because of their hidden life in dense rainforests. According to some estimates, more than two million African forest elephants roamed the rainforests of West and Central Africa until the colonial era. It is assumed that most of the African forest elephants once lived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where they have almost disappeared to this day. The hunt for ivory has plagued the elephants for centuries and has depleted their populations.

Inventory examinations in the recent past have produced terrifying results in some cases. Between 2003 and 2012, the Republic of the Congo lost around 50 percent of its forest elephants in just ten years. In the Lobéké National Park in Cameroon, forest elephant populations also decreased by around 51 percent between 2002 and 2015. In the Nki National Park in Cameroon, around 78 percent of the forest elephants disappeared between 2005 and 2015. In the Boumba-Bek National Park, a third protected area in Cameroon, around 90 percent have been missing between 2011 and 2015. In the Minkébé National Park in Gabon, where one of the most important forest elephant populations with a size of around 21,000 animals lived up to 2004, at least 11,100 forest elephants were killed between 2004 and 2012. In 2013, 26 forest elephants were killed in a single day on the Dzanga-Bai in the Dzanga Sangha Conservation Area in the Central African Republic. Overall, the decrease in the total population of African forest elephants in the period between 2002 and 2011 is estimated to be around 62 percent, within one generation, in African forest elephants 31 years, even by over 80%. In the Campo Ma’an National Park in Cameroon and in the Dzanga Sangha Conservation Area in the Central African Republic, on the other hand, the forest elephant populations appear to be relatively stable in the periods between 2008 and 2014 and between 2012 and 2016, respectively.

The number of African elephants in the central and west African rainforests is currently estimated to be far fewer than 100,000 animals. About half of them live in the rainforests of Gabon.

Are African Forest Elephants Endangered?

Your endangerment and protection status

In the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature IUCN, African forest elephants are classified as critically endangered. With the exception of the populations of the four South African countries Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, the African elephants are listed in Appendix I of the Washington Convention on CITES. The provisions of Appendix I therefore apply to the African forest elephants native to Central and West Africa. International commercial trade in African forest elephants or products made from parts of them is therefore strictly prohibited.

The greatest threats to African forest elephants today are poaching and habitat loss. The tusks of the elephants have been artfully processed for thousands of years. Ivory has a comparatively soft consistency, is easy to scratch with a knife and is a popular raw material for carvings, jewelry, inlays and luxurious everyday objects. A few centuries ago, ivory was so popular and expensive that it was also called the “white gold” of elephants. The ivory of the forest elephants is considered to be the more valuable ivory due to its greater compactness.

In ancient times, the extent of the ivory trade was initially limited by the rudimentary hunting methods and trading structures. But the development of the African continent, transatlantic trade relations and hunting with firearms opened up a new dimension of the ivory trade in the colonial era. This was closely connected with the slave trade. In Europe and America tons of ivory were used every year to make cutlery handles, keyboards, billiard balls and much more. The main trading center was Europe.

In the meantime, the main ivory trading centers relocated to East Asia. As a result, the hunt for ivory reached another high point in the 1970s. Between 1979 and 1989 alone, the population was decimated from around 1.3 million animals to less than half. In just ten years, the continent is estimated to have lost 700,000 to 800,000 of its elephants. In order to control the international ivory trade and to protect the remaining populations of elephants, the Asian elephants were listed in Appendix I of the Washington Convention on CITES in 1975 and the African elephants in Appendix II in 1977. As a result, international trade in Asian elephants and parts of them was forbidden and which strictly regulates with African elephants and parts of them. Between 1970 and 1989 around 700,000 African elephants died for their ivory and the populations fell sharply in many parts or even disappeared completely. In the period between 1979 and 1988 around a third of the ivory traded worldwide came from Central Africa. It is not known how large the proportion of ivory from forest and savannah elephants was. This development led to the fact that the African elephants were included in Appendix I of the Washington Convention on CITES in 1989. International trade in African elephants and parts of them was therefore completely forbidden. In the years that followed, some elephant populations were able to recover well, especially in southern Africa. In 1997, for example, the regulations were relaxed and the populations of Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe were re-included in Appendix II of the Washington Convention on CITES. The population of South Africa followed in 2000. Even if this again allows international trade within a narrow framework, international trade in their ivory remains prohibited. In 1999 and 2008, these three and four countries were allowed a total of two sales of ivory stocks under the CITES Convention. When it was first sold in 1999, Japan acquired around 50 tons of ivory. In 2008, traders from China and Japan bought approximately 101 tons of ivory. The African forest elephants were not affected by these one-off sales. The provisions of Appendix I have been in force for them since 1989 without exception.

Since 2007, Africa has once again been in a poaching crisis, which is still worsening today. The continuing high demand from the Far East acts as the driving force. Over the years, a highly professional wildlife mafia has established itself with a complex network of poachers, smugglers and traders. Some of the poachers are heavily armed and have military training. Currently around 20,000 elephants are poached across Africa every year, i.e. an average of one elephant every half an hour. Today, Central Africa in particular is a frequent scene of elephant poaching. Studies as part of the MIKE program for monitoring illegal elephant killing show that the total population of African forest elephants is currently declining by around ten to 18 percent annually. This rate makes the African forest elephant one of the most threatened animals in Africa. According to a recent study, African forest elephants reproduce more slowly than savannah elephants. To compensate for the stock loss of 62 percent in the period between 2002 and 2011, they would need around 81 years alone.

African forest elephants are particularly at risk of poaching for several reasons. Your ivory is particularly popular. The poachers benefit from the cover of the dense rainforests during their raids. In most of the African forest elephants' distribution countries, the political situation is unstable and law enforcement is inadequate. Because the elephant populations in large parts of southern and eastern Africa are increasingly protected and the illegal ivory trade there is increasingly being successfully controlled, the risk for poachers in the rainforests of Central Africa is comparatively lower.Regional poaching focuses show that the wildlife mafia is constantly reorienting itself.

How exactly the ivory then got from Africa to Asia is not fully known. Seizures suggest that the main smuggling routes change regularly. The ivory is often smuggled through inner-African transit countries before it makes its way to Asia. The large loads of ivory are typically smuggled by ship. In any case, seizures show that some of the illegal ivory is well camouflaged. Tusks and ivory carvings, for example, are hidden in hollowed out tree trunks or in a batch of corn kernels, potted in clay, dyed black and declared as ebony carvings and much more. In the period between 2007 and 2014, the responsible authorities confiscated a total of more than 270 tons of ivory. The main target of the contraband are the black markets in China. But while the traders make really big profits, the poachers in Africa get only a fraction of the profits.

There are loopholes for the ivory trade in some domestic domestic markets. The trade regulation or trade ban by the Washington Convention on CITES only applies to international trade.

The national ivory trade, however, is still allowed in some countries. These often uncontrolled national domestic markets are an invitation to “wash clean” illegal ivory. China, as the country with the greatest demand for ivory worldwide, therefore took an important step in 2018 and banned the previously legal trade within its national borders. Since then, demand in China has declined noticeably, but a stubborn core of some ivory enthusiasts remains who, despite knowing about the illegality, are interested in buying - and are interested in buying it.

In addition to poaching, elephants, like many other wild animals, suffer from the loss, degradation and fragmentation of their natural habitat. Large parts of the elephant range have valuable raw materials such as wood, mineral resources and oil. So far, the selective logging is mainly responsible for disturbances and interventions in the natural areas in the distribution area of ​​the African forest elephants. Regions that were previously remote are being developed in terms of infrastructure and the living space is cut up by a network of transport routes. In total, around 30 percent of the habitat was lost between 2002 and 2011.

But the poachers are not only targeting ivory, but also what is known as bush meat. African forest elephants, like all other animals in the Central African forests, are hunted, sold and eaten. The elephants are a temptation for the poachers, as there is more meat on them than on most other potential prey animals. The commercialization of the bushmeat trade has meanwhile led to the total overexploitation of wild animals. The poachers even do not stop at protected areas. The bushmeat problem is exacerbated by the extraction of raw materials in the rainforests. On the one hand, the workers who settle on site like to feed on bush meat and, on the other hand, the transport routes that are created for this make it easier for the hunters to access and remove the meat. The expansion of ecotourism as an alternative source of income has only developed to a small extent in the African forest elephant distribution area.

Elephant protection has been a big topic for the WWF for decades. Just like polar bears, rhinos, tigers, great apes, giant pandas and other species, elephants are among the flagship species of the World Wide Fund for Nature. The WWF is active worldwide in numerous projects for the protection and research of threatened species and has already achieved a great deal.


More information on African forest elephants

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