Forest elephant conservation

Forest Elephant

As its name suggests, the forest elephant is a forest-dwelling African elephant which is smaller and darker than its savanna relative, with characteristically rounded ears and a hairy trunk. Due to its elusive nature and dense, forest habitat, the forest elephant has not been studied as extensively as the savanna elephant. The species is confined to the forests of West and Central equatorial Africa, particularly in the Congo basin.

Genetic studies show that the forest elephant is quite distinct from its savannah cousin although they remain classed as one species, the African elephant (Loxodonta africana).

The status of African elephants varies considerably across the species' range. Whilst overall, African elephants are listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List, at the regional level in Central Africa, forest elephants (Loxodonta africana cyclotis) are classified as ‘Endangered’ due to the significant threats to the species in this area.

Why is it threatened?

The severe decline of forest elephants in Central Africa is largely a result of the unprecedented levels of poaching for the illegal ivory trade in recent years. A recent study by Maisels et al showed that across Central Africa, forest elephant populations have suffered shocking declines, estimated to be in excess of 60% in the 10 years from 2002-2012. Remaining elephant populations continue to face considerable pressure. 

Although the species has vanished from around 30% of its range over this period, it is thought that adjacent parts of South East Cameroon, North East Gabon and the Northern Congo represent the last remaining strongholds for this large mammal. Protecting these populations is vital for the future of the species in Central Africa.

ZSL conservationists are focussing on conserving forest elephants in Cameroon; specifically in the forest landscape of the Dja Biosphere Reserve. The Reserve itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site surrounded by timber concessions and community-managed lands, which cover c. 15,000 square kilometres. This area is globally-recognised as a conservation priority for elephants and other threatened wildlife.

Read about ZSL’s work in the Dja Biosphere Reserve 

Project information

Key Species

  • African forest elephant, (Loxodonta Africana cyclotis) - Endangered (regional status) 

People involved

  • Chris Ransom and Paul De Ornellas are managing ZSL’s work on the forest elephant

Partners & Sponsors

  • Ministère des Forêts et de la Faune de la République du Cameroun (MINFOF); the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative and IWT Challenge Fund; USFWS; IUCN SOS Fund; Rufford Foundation; European Union and UNESCO; TRAFFIC; African Wildlife Foundation; Société Pallisco; Société Forestière et Industrielle de la Doumé (SFID).

Related projects

Read about our Dja conservation complex project, which supports the management of the Dja Biosphere Reserve and its periphery to prevent poaching of forest elephant and other vulnerable species.