Modern-day mammoth

The African elephant is the largest living terrestrial mammal and is found predominantly in eastern, southern and western Africa in a variety of habitats. The species is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Traditionally the major cause of the species’ decline has been poaching for ivory. While this still remains a threat, other issues caused by rapid human population growth have emerged. These include habitat loss, fragmentation and the development of agricultural land, which have all led to an increase in conflict between humans and elephants.

African elephant facts

  • The largest recorded individual reached four metres at the shoulder and weighed ten tonnes
  • Both the male and female African elephant have tusks, which are actually extended upper incisor teeth
  • African elephants live in matriarchal social families consisting of closely related females and their calves
  • Elephants use their trunks for vocalisation, feeding, drinking, greeting and other social behaviours
  • Low-frequency calls allow elephants to communicate over large distances and two-thirds of calls are emitted at a frequency below the range of human hearing
At a glance
Loxodonta africana
Vulnerable
KenyaTanzaniaGuineaLiberiaSouth AfricaMozambiqueDemocratic Republic of CongoRwandaUgandaSouth Sudan

Family:

Elephantidae

Order:

Proboscidea

Est. in the wild:

Approx. 400,000

The African elephant is the world’s largest land animal, with males weighing six tonnes on average.

40,000

The number of muscles in an elephant’s trunk – that’s more than 60 times the number in a human body.

20%

of Africa’s elephant population is estimated to have been lost over the last ten years.

Conservation story

Forest elephants are currently classified as a rarer subspecies of African elephant, although some experts now argue that African elephants should be split into two distinct species – forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) and savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana). However, the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group has not yet formally recognised them as two distinct species, in part because hybridisation between the two has occurred and hybrids could be left with uncertain conservation status.

How FFI is helping to save the African elephant

The African elephant is a transboundary species, with individuals known to travel across several countries. Fauna & Flora International (FFI) therefore takes a transboundary conservation approach. FFI protects forest elephants in the forest landscape of Ziama-Wonegizi-Wologizi-Foya between Guinea and Liberia. This landscape offers one of the last viable and intact habitats to support forest elephants in West Africa. FFI is strengthening forest and species protection and maintaining connectivity between these forest areas, only some of which are officially protected.

In the Ziama classified forest (forêt classée) – a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve containing the last remaining population of forest elephants in Guinea – we are supporting the development and implementation of a management plan, which is essential for good governance, effective law enforcement and biomonitoring.

In Liberia, we are working with the government to implement the National Elephant Action Plan along with supporting the wildlife authority and communities on governance and management of protected and proposed protected areas.

FFI is also tackling the illegal wildlife trade crisis afflicting Mozambique’s vast and crucially important Niassa National Reserve by strengthening anti-poaching measures in Chuilexi Conservancy, which forms a key section of the wider reserve. As poaching has intensified in the area over the last five years, this conservancy is a vital refuge for Niassa’s elephants and contains up to a quarter of its remaining population. Alongside important community work, FFI is continuing to strengthen law enforcement in Chuilexi to help protect its elephants and other species from poachers.