African Forest Elephant: Gentle Giant of the Jungle

African Forest Elephant appearance

Are you passionate about animals just like me? Do you enjoy delving into their behaviors and fascinating facts about them? If so, you’ve come to the right place! Today, we embark on an exciting journey to explore one of the remarkable animals that start with a – African forest elephant. You will be able to see some spectacular pictures of this loveliest creature. Let’s begin our exploration and delve into the world of African forest elephants!

Elephants have always piqued human fascination because of their enormous size and charming lifestyles. The most attractive features of their bodies are their big ears and tusks. There are several different species of elephants, but the African forest elephant—also called an African bush elephant—is one of them and is said to be the world’s largest land animal, weighing roughly 6 tones.

Belonging to Elephantidae family, this elephant species is found in central and South Africa. They can grow upto 13 feet tall with long nose (called trunk), which is used to store water and for other purposes. Their daily diet is about 300 lbs of vegetation. It is the animal which grows its teeth 6 times in his lifetime. Let’s discover more about African forest elephant!

KingdomPhylumClassOrderGenusFamilyScientific Name
AnimaliaChordataMammaliaProboscideaLoxodontaElephantidaeLoxodonta cyclotis
Taxonomic Classification of African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis)

Origin and Evolution

African Bush Elephant and African Forest Elephant are the two subspecies of elephants that are typically found on the African continent. Prior to recent developments, both of them were thought to be the same, however there are actually several differences between the two species. For instance, the African elephant differs from the African bush elephant in having straight tusks, rounded ears, and more toenails.

This species, which primarily inhabits forests of Central and West Africa, originated from the African savanna approximately 2 to 7 million years ago. The African elephant has developed special physical traits as a result of his habitat’s abundance and density, allowing him to thrive in the forests.

Currently, human activities like habitat destruction and ivory poaching are posing serious problems for African forest elephants. These elements influence how African forest elephants are classified. However, a number of measures, including the creation of numerous protected areas and awareness-based campaigns, are being taken to protect their populations.


The African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) is a remarkable species inhabiting the dense rainforests of Central and West Africa. Their survival in this challenging environment is attributed to the abundant forest resources and lush vegetation found in lowland rainforests, swamp forests, and montane forests. Due to their preference for dense habitats, accurately estimating their population and range is challenging. Nonetheless, their numbers are significantly lower when compared to African Savanna elephants.

CountriesGabon, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Ghana
Bio-geographical RealmsAfrotropical
WWF BiomesDesert and Xeric Shrublands, Tropical moist forests, Tropical savanna
Climate zoneTropical Rainforest Climate, Tropical Wet and Dry Climate
HabitatDense tropical rainforests


Currently, African forest elephants are endangered species residing in the lush rainforests of Central and West Africa. Due to several threats including poaching, human wildlife conflict and habitat loss, their population has gone through many significant challenges. Presently, this species is not included in the Red List of IUCN.

Population Number

The population of African elephants has been a serious subject of concern recently. This is due to their frailty and the leading challenges to accurately estimate their numbers. However, research suggests that their population has experienced a significant decline in recent decades.

According to the most recent assessments, it is estimated that there are approximately 70,000 to 100,000 African forest elephants remaining in the wild. This survey was based on the 18 African countries including both central and West African populations.This population number replicates the measuring and monitoring challenges of these elusive creatures in rainforest environments.

Ecological Niche

Making ecological balance in their habitat is one of the most significant job done by the African elephants. Being purely based on vegetation (leaves, barks and fruits), they contribute to the seed dispersal. By consuming various types of plants, they help to promote the plant diversity. Moreover, they are known as “mega-gardeners of the forest”.


African Forest Elephant population

African elephants are mostly distributed in the forests of the central and South Africa, where they keep wandering, searching for food and waterholes. Being relatively smaller than African bush elephant, they are easy to travel through dense forests. Although, they get their ideal environment in the forests, they can also be found in various ecosystems like grasslands (savannas), food lands, forests and flood plains.

They rely on a range of vegetation for their diet, including leaves, fruits, bark, and vines. They perform the task of seed dispersal by consuming different plants and dispersing their seeds through their dung, which leads to the regeneration and multiplicity of the rainforest. The elusive African golden cat, with its stunning coat and elusive nature, and the majestic African forest elephant, both inhabit the rich ecosystems of Africa.

African Elephant Burrows

African elephants make burrows in several habitats within its range. They dig these large depressions or pits in the ground using their powerful tusks and feet. These burrows serve several purposes for them. One function is to access mineral-rich soil or clay, which they consume for its nutritional value.

Moreover, burrows provide them to access water during the dry season. Importantly, not all the African elephants are engaged in burrowing behavior, it is observed in specific regions and habitats.


African forest elephant is considered as the largest mammals on our planet with the size of about 2000 – 3500 kg in mass. Having straight back, their height ranges between 1.8 and 2.7 meter, about 2.7 meter for male and 2.4 meter for females.

They have grey to black colored skin, covered with hair (0.8 – 8 inch long) around the tip of their tail. Tail length can vary between half of the rump height to touching ground. Their dark colored skin provides them protection from predators by blending them with the dense vegetation of the African rainforests, and harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Both male and female elephants of this species have thin and hard tusks in pink color, helping them to keep their body cool. These tusks are usually straight and pointed downwards and 1.5 m long, weighing 50 – 100 pounds. Length of tusks continues to grow for bulls, however, tusks of cows stop increasing after being reproductively mature. They have 4 teeth (12 inches in length), 5 toenails on forefoot and 4 on the hindfoot.

Physical Characteristics

ColorBrown, grey
SkinLeather type
Trunk length6.5 ft
Toes5 nails on forefoot
Heart weight12 – 21 kg
EyesightBest in low lighting


The anatomy of the African elephants enables them to thrive in their rainforest habitat. Let’s explore some key anatomical features in detail:

  • Tongue – The tongue of African elephant, being in rough texture, helps them to hold and eat vegetation.
  • Claws – While moving through the thick forests, the claws of this species play a curical role in tracking, digging up roots and excavating mineral-rich soil.
  • Mouth – The structure of their mouth is known as palate, which has very strong muscles, helping them to chew the tough vegetation easily.
  • Jaw – The chewing and digestion of the fibrous plant material is made easy by the strong jaw muscles of African elephants.
  • Teeth – In whole lifetime, they get total 24 teeth, 6 on each quadrant of jaw. When one set of 6 teeth is worn down, it is replaced by the next set, grinding and processing the tough plant material.
  • Trunk – The trunk of these elephants serve them for various purposes like grasping, smelling, bathing, drinking and communicating.
  • Feet – To survive in the dense rainforests, African elephants have broad and padded soles, making their walk easy.
  • Skeleton – The skeleton is characterized by their massive size and strength. It supports their substantial body weight and offers structural integrity for their powerful movements.


African forest elephants are considered as the social animals because they live in the form of groups, called herds. Mostly, their groups consist of 2-8 elephants and their family units consist of 3-5 elephants on average. An old female elephant is the head of this herd, known as matriarch. She is responsible to find out the food and water sources for the whole herd. Male individuals live separately and remain no longer in the group after reaching maturity; they only socialize when mating.

They communicate with each other by very low frequency sounds which can be heard from many kilometers away, but these sounds are not audible to humans. Moreover, they can also recognize and hear vibrations through the ground and can detect food sources with their sense of smell.

They eat a variety of plant material such as leaves, fruits, bark, and twigs as they are herbivorous. They can navigate through the thick vegetation, also they create well-defined trails and paths. They use their trunks and tusks for various purposes like clearing paths and moving aside the obstacles, which allows them to move more efficiently through the forest.

Prey and Diet

African elephants are more likely to eat the herbal food as compared to anything else. They love to eat low-lying bushes, herbs, small trees, grass, fruity and flowery plants, seeds and bark. Although, they need a wide range of vegetation but it is necessary for them to live, as they completely rely on herbal food.

According to estimates, they consume over 100 different plant species. Their elongated jaw enables them to reach high branches to extract food efficiently. When they lose the 6 pairs of teeth, they are unable to eat anything, leading them to starvation which is the main cause of the death of African elephants. Moreover, increasing deforestation is a problem for them to find food, which is also a leading factor in this regard.

Predators and Threats

African Forest Elephant lifestyle

Although these gentle giants are distinguished for their notable size and imposing presence, currently they are facing several predators and threats in their natural habitat. While discussing predators, unfortunately, humans are posing most substantial threat to them. Poaching for ivory has become very common, causing major decline in their population. Moreover, the demand for ivory products in illegal markets drives poachers to hunt down these elephants relentlessly.

Recently, population of African elephants had been through a sharp decline due to various factors. These factors are discussed below in detail:

  • Lack of habitat – Humans are continuously growing in every field, which is a good thing. But simultaneously, this is being a big reason behind the habitat loss of animals. The conversion of rainforests into logging operations and agricultural land is one of its example.
  • Conflict with humans – Increasing population is a leading factor behind the conflict between wildlife and humans. Elephants can ruin the crops of farmers, which pose a negative effect.
  • Low conservation measures – Managing a challenging habitat for African elephants is very tough task. Lack of proper security and care, less resources and insufficient funding are causing the loss of African elephants.
  • Deforestation – As the whole lifestyle of African elephants is based on the forests, deforestation is making them deprived of their homes and food sources.
  • Poaching – Poaching for ivory is one of the biggest threats to the African forest elephant these days. Although, it is fully banned, even then elephants are being killed illegally in various areas just for the sake of ivory.

It is necessary to address all these problems regarding the threats to the population of African forest elephants. It can be done in many ways like stopping illicit poaching, stabilizing and restoring their habitats, supporting sustainable land use practices, and engaging local communities in conservation efforts. It will be a positive step towards their survival which will provide us valuable ecosystem services.

Defense Strategies

In order to keep theirselves protected from predators and threats, African elephants have made a few defense strategies including navigating through dense vegetation, disappearing into the forest. These strategies are mainly based on their size and color. Moreover, they emit loud vocalizations or trumpet to indicate the warning sign to other individuals, when they face any kind of threat. That’s why, they mostly rely on grouping as it is safer for them. 

Reproduction and Life Cycles

Sexual maturity is enabled in male and female African forest elephants at different ages, 11 years for female and around 20 years for male. Usually mating season is rainy months, after which male elephants don’t participate in any activity regarding their upcoming child. All responsibility is of female African elephant, which gives birth after the gestation period of about 22 months (longest gestation period among mammals).

After the birth of a calf (weighing 100 kg), the whole herd including mother of newborn, takes care of him for the period of 2 years. The matriarch and other experienced females teach the younger elephants about social behaviors, migration routes, and survival strategies. After this time his tusks begin to grow and he is able to support himself. Usually, these individuals live for 60 to 70 years, which is much long lifespan.

Mating Habits

The mating system of African elephants is polygynous. Male elephants are more active during this period (wet season). Although maturity age for males is 11 – 14 years and for females it varies between 9 – 22 years of age, the maturity age of these giant mammals is mainly dependent on the diet, climate and weather. The chances of twins are extremely low, mostly a single baby calf is born after a long gestation period. The mother of calf takes his care for about 7 years until he is completely independent for all activities.

Mating systemPolygyny
Reproductive seasonWhole year, mainly rainy season
Gestation period20 – 22 months
NewbornSingle calf
Period to be independent6.5 years
Female partner nameCow
Male partner nameBull
Newborn nameCalf

Relationship with Humans

Having a quick look on past, humans had a good relation with this magnificent creature from beginning by respecting their services such as stabilizing the ecosystem. However, recently, whole scenario has been changed due to various factors like, expansion of human activities (poaching, logging and agriculture). A huge conflict is observable between humans and African forests due to fragmentation and their habitat loss. Moreover, poaching for ivory, which is illegal, has caused decline in their population.

As African elephants are purely vegetarian, so it is a bad news for farmers when an animal spoils their crops. Due to this reason, many forest elephants have been killed in past. Secondly, deforestation for human has put animals into a tough life. Such factors are contributing a rapid decline in the number of African elephants which is really sad! To make a positive relationship with them, it is necessary for us to protect them from conservation efforts, anti-poaching measures, and community engagement.

African Forest Elephant Fun Facts

African elephants are one of the most impressive creature with the height of 2.5 m. They love to be in water, since dipping and mud baths are their most favorite activities. Let’s have a look on some interesting facts about African forest elephants.

Life Span60 – 70 years
Weaning age5 years
SizeSmallest of the 3 elephant species
Weight2,000 – 7,000 kg (2 to 6 tons)
Height2.5 meters (8 feet) at shoulder
Length6 meters (20 feet)
Top Speed40 km/h (25 mph)
Most Distinctive FeatureLarge, straight tusks pointing downward
Smelling sense160 times stronger than humans
Favorite activityBathing and wallowing in mud and water
Common NameAfrican Forest Elephant
Other NamesCentral African Forest Elephant
Number of SpeciesOne

Domestication and Care

Are you considering domesticating an Asian-style elephant from the African forest? I’m sorry, but it’s not feasible as once I also had this wish, which couldn’t get fulfilled due to many factors. For instance, when comparing the terms African and Asian elephants, African elephants cannot be tamed because they are completely distinct species. Moreover, domesticating them is wholly prohibited. Additionally, they require a lot of food and a lot of space to exist, which is an impossible feat.

The zoos that house these elephants provide them with all of their needs. In zoos, they are typically housed as herds. There is no need for them to find food or water. The fact that they merely go around and engage in some intellectual games is absolutely astounding. They consume various meals in the zoo, such as lettuce, celery, herbivore pellets, hay, cucumbers, acacia branches, and leaves, as well as fresh water (around 50 gallons per day).

Conservation Status

With the passage of time and advancement in technology, the conservation status of African elephants has become a striking issue. The poaching for ivory, habitat loss, deforestation and expansion of agriculture has led to sharp decline in their population. Regarding such threats to these elephants, IUCN has added them into the Red List of Threatened Species.

In order to resolve this issue, various organizations, local communities and governments are taking action currently to provide them proper habitats. Illegal ivory is also being controlled by law enforcement activities. Well, it is the need of time to educate people about the importance of elephant conservation and promote sustainable livelihoods for local communities.


The African forest elephants are smaller in size and has straighter tusks compared to the African savanna elephants. They also have rounder ears and a more rounded shape.

African elephants have a lifespan of about 60 to 70 years in the wild.

The scientific name for the African Forest Elephant is Loxodonta cyclotis.

There is only 1 species of African Forest Elephants on the planet.

They primarily inhabit the dense rainforests and tropical forests of Central and West Africa. The forests, savannas, and floodplains are the main habitats of African elephants.

They are herbivores and mainly feed on a variety of leaves, fruits, bark, and vegetation found in the forest.

Although they are well-known by the name “African forest elephant”, they are also known as the African elephants.

It is very obvious and clear that being huge in size, elephants cannot be fast in. However, an African elephant in its natural habitat can reach a 24.2 mph (39 kph) peak.

Baby of African Elephant is named as a calf. Whereas a female elephant is known as cow and male elephant as bull.

They are generally shy and avoid human contact. However, if they feel threatened, they may exhibit defensive behavior.

Like other elephants, they use low-frequency calls to communicate among widely separated social groupings. They are able to distinguish a voice signal from a family member up to a distance of 1.5 mi (2.5 km). They can discover food sources by marking vibrations in the ground and using their sense of smell. They have excellent eyesight and touch sensitivity through their trunks and skin.

African Forest Elephants are purely herbivores because they only eat plants (green food).

African elephants are facing biggest threats these days, like poaching and habitat loss. Moreover, various human activities including deforestation are also endangering their existence.

Mudassar Ahmad

He is a seasoned blogger since 2012 and an M.Phil graduate in English Linguistics. He captivates readers with his eloquent prose and insightful perspectives. His passion for language and dedication to crafting compelling content make him a trusted voice in the online sphere. Explore the world through Ahmad's literary lens.

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