World's largest terrestrial mammal still under threat
Elephants continue to roam the African land, but remain under threat from poaching and habitat loss.
Although poaching of elephants for their ivory has declined since the 1989 worldwide ivory ban, it remains a widespread problem in west and central Africa. Large quantities of African ivory are still finding their way in to illegal markets in Africa and beyond in places such as Asia.
A more long-term threat to the species, however, is the reduction of habitat available to elephants in the face of expanding human populations.
Through its African Elephant Programme, WWF has identified 5 issues that need to be addressed in order to conserve African elephants and diminish the factors that threaten them. They are:
· slowing the loss of natural habitat;
· strengthening activities against poachers and the illegal ivory trade;
· reducing conflict between human and elephant populations;
· Determining the status of elephant populations through improved surveys; and
· enhancing the capacity of local wildlife authorities to conserve and manage elephants.
Two subspecies are recognized: the savannah (or bush) elephant, Loxodonta africana africana, and the forest elephant, Loxodonta africana cyclotis. Savanna elephants are larger than forest elephants, and their tusks curve outwards. In addition to being smaller, forest elephants are darker, have more oval-shaped ears, and their tusks are straighter and downward pointing. There are also differences in the size and shape of the skull and skeleton between the 2 subspecies.
African elephants are the world's largest terrestrial mammals. Their characteristic trunk, an extension of the upper lip and nose, is used for communication and handling objects including food. They have 2 opposing extensions at its end, in contrast to the Asian elephant which only has one.
Tusks - large modified incisors that grow throughout an elephant's lifetime - occur in both males and females and are used in fights and for marking, feeding, and digging.
The other notable feature of this species are their large ears (those of Asian elephants are distinctly smaller), which allow them to radiate excess heat.
The body length of male African elephants ranges from 6 to 7.5m, and the shoulder height reaches 3.3m. Females are smaller at 5.4 - 6.9m, with a shoulder height at 2.7m. Adult males weigh 6 tons on average, females 3 tons.
The African elephant usually has a brownish-gray skin color.
Major habitat type
Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests, Flooded Grasslands and Savannahs, Miombo woodlands, Acacia savannahs
Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Congo, The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Côte d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, United Republic of Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Guinean Moist Forests, Congolian Coastal Forests, Cameroon Highlands Forests, Northeastern Congo Basin Moist Forests, Central Congo Basin Moist Forests, Central Congo Basin Moist Forests, Western Congo Basin Moist Forests, Albertine Rift Montane Forests, East African Coastal Forests, Horn of Africa Acacia Savannahs, East African Acacia Savannas, Central and Eastern Miombo Woodlands, Sudanian Savannahs, Sudd-Sahelian Flooded Grasslands and Savannahs, Zambezian Flooded Savannas, Southern Rift Montane Woodlands, East African Moorlands, Namib-Karoo-Kaokoveld Deserts.
Why is this species important?
Elephants play an important role in the forest and savannah ecosystems in which they live. Many plant species are dependent on passing through an elephant's digestive tract before they can germinate; it is calculated that at least a third of tree species in west African forests rely on elephants in this way.
Elephants browsing on vegetation also affect the structure of habitats and influence bush fire patterns. For example, under natural conditions, elephants make gaps through the rainforest, enabling the sunlight to enter which allows the growth of a various plant species. This in turn facilitates a more abundant and more diverse fauna of smaller animals.
The influence elephants have over many plant and animal species means they are often referred to as keystone species that are vital to the long-term survival of the ecosystems in which they live.
African elephants care for wounded individuals and are unique in that they identify and look after elephant bones.
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