Forest elephants: an overview

Fast- Facts

Common Name: Forest elephants

Scientific NameLoxodonta cyclotis

Location: West and Central Africa

Habitat: Forest

Height: 2.4 – 3 metres

Weight: 2 -5 tonnes

First pregnancy: 23 years

Gestation Period: 22 – 24 months

Time between pregnancies: 5 – 6 years

Population doubling time: 60 years

'Hidden Giants: Forest elephants of the Congo Basin' by Stephen Blake et al. Page 14

Forest elephant distribution

Forest elephants extend from Guinea in West Africa, through Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria, and into the Central african forests of Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, the Congo, Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

To the east, forest elephants can still be found in Uganda, and possibly Rwanda, and to the south a population still exists in the isolated Cabinda of Angola.

Forest elephant physical characteristics

Forest elephants are smaller than their savannah cousins; have straighter, downward-pointing tusks; smoother skin, rather than the moisture-collecting wrinkled skin of savannah elephants; and rounder ears, from which they derive their Latin name Loxodonta cyclotis.

African forest elephants, like their savannah and Asian cousins, can live for up to 65 years and are considered ‘gardeners’.  The digestive system of an elephant is not as effective or efficient as some other animals – they do not fully digest and absorb all of the nutrients from the vegetation they eat and which passes through them (as opposed to bovine creatures and ruminants that process vegetation much more thoroughly).  Therefore, because of this, elephants need to eat a huge amount of vegetation to extract the nutrients required to power the biological machine that is an elephant’s massive body.  So, elephants eat vegetation amount to about four per cent of their entire body weight every day.

Every single elephant produces about one tonne of dung every single week as a result of the huge amount of vegetation that they eat and their digestive system being one which does not fully process that vegetation. Dung, as we know, is an incredibly effective fertiliser.  That means that every elephant produces about 52 tonnes of dung every year for over 60 years.  Not only is dung an incredible fertiliser but the seeds of fruits or acacia pods also pass through the elephant undigested, resulting in elephants acquiring the unique status of ‘gardeners of the forest’.

Diet

No other animal species on earth has such a diverse diet.

Research has shown that forest elephants eat a wide range of plants. It has been found that forest elephants can eat over 300 different place species from over 73 families, with some 725 different plant parts (bark, leaves, fruit, etc) consumed.

Forest elephants also love fruit having been found to consume over 100 species! In fact, 93% of dung in some cases contained traces of fruit, usually in the form of seeds.They use their trunks to pick fruit from small trees as well as vacuum up fallen fruit from canopy trees. They have also been observed pushing small trees over to get their fruit or head-butting larger trees to shake off ripe fruits.