The Decline of Forest Elephants

Photo by Peter H. Wrege

Photo of an African forest elephant by Peter H. Wrege

A new study has revealed that from 2002 – 2011, 62% of forest elephants had been wiped out in central Africa. Organized criminal gangs have been slaughtering whole herds of elephants to profit from a rapidly expanding illegal ivory trade.

Elephants, who are highly intelligent creatures, are aware of the danger they face and have tried to adapt.  They avoid roads and travel silently during the night. But these tactics are not enough when facing the onslaught of gangs wielding automatic assault weapons and grenades.

If nothing changes, African elephants are on a short path to extinction.

To learn more about the plight of African elephants, see:

If you would like to help elephants, you can write to your politicians to speak out against poaching. (Americans can write a letter to the Secretary of State on the Wildlife Conservation Society website.) For information on organizations that combat the illegal ivory trade, see National Geographic’s page, Blood Ivory: How to Help.

Learn more about African elephants on our African Elephant Facts Page.

Elephant Calf at Toledo Zoo

Baby elephant at Toledo Zoo

Photo by Toledo Zoo.

The Toledo Zoo in Ohio announced the birth of a healthy male African elephant calf.  The newborn elephant, weighing over 200 pounds, stood within minutes of being born and began nursing a few hours later.  The baby’s mother Renee has so far displayed “excellent maternal behavior,” but zoo staff will continue to monitor the pair ensuring they are both healthy and bonded.

Adult African elephants can weigh up to 6000 kg (6.6 tons) and measure up to 3.3 m (10 ft.) at the shoulder, making it the world’s largest land mammal. In their native habitat of sub-Saharan Africa, African elephants play a vital role in maintaining ecological harmony.  They ingest plants and fruits, walk for miles, and excrete the seeds in fertile dung piles. In this way, new plants can grow in different areas and can cross fertilize. In fact, 90 different tree species rely on the elephant for propagation. African elephants also dig holes to expose underground springs. This allows smaller animals to access water in drier times.

To learn more about the Toledo Zoo’s baby elephant, see Toledo Blade.

Learn more about African elephants at Animal Fact Guide.

Baby African Elephant Arrives at San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park

Baby African elephant at San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park
Photo: Ken Bohn / San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park

A male African elephant calf was born on Friday at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park. Weighing in at 220 pounds, the baby elephant will be observed for a few days before joining the rest of the herd, which includes four other elephant calves.

The world’s largest land mammals, African elephants can grow as large as 3.3 m (10 ft.) at the shoulder and 6000 kg (6.6 tons).  They are considered near threatened by the IUCN as poaching and urban sprawl pose massive threats to their survival in the wild.

For more information about the baby elephant, see:
LA Times Unleashed
San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Baby Video

To learn more about African elephants in the wild, see Animal Fact Guide’s article: African Elephant.

Study Shows Elephants Lead Shorter Lives in Zoos

African Elephant

Researchers from the journal Science have concluded that elephants in European zoos have shorter lifespans than elephants living in protected areas in Africa. Specifically, they have calculated the median lifespan for a zoo-born African elephant to be 16.9 years as compared with 56.0 years in a protected park.  Similarly, Asian elephants born in a zoo live 18.9 years as compared with 41.7 years.  Researchers have also found that although survival rates have improved in recent years, mortality rates for elephants in zoos is still significantly higher.

Causes of the shorter lifespans can be attributed to disease, infanticide, obesity, and stress.  In the wild or in protected parks, elephants are able to roam vast distances with their herd.  At zoos, space is more limited, thereby accounting for some issues like obesity and stress.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has sharply criticized the study, noting that data was collected from only European zoos as opposed to North American zoos. Further, the AZA contends that the study is flawed because it does not take into account the many elephants who are killed by people in the wild.

For more information:
Boston Globe: Zoo elephants at far greater risk of premature death
New York Times: Critical Report on Health of Zoo Elephants Is Debated
Houston Chronicle: Elephants have shorter lives in zoos, researchers find

For more information about African elephants and what you can do to help them, read Animal Fact Guide’s article: African Elephant.