Saving threatened habitats worldwide

African Elephant

©Stacey Manley & Gareth West/


Class: Mammalia

Order: Proboscidea

Family: Elephantidae

Scientific Name: Loxodonta africana

IUCN Red List status: Vulnerable

Protected by the following WLT projects:


Kasanka National Park


Species Range (IUCN)


The unmistakable giant of Africa, Loxodonta africana, is the world’s largest land mammal, recognised for its muscular trunk, ivory tusks and large, fan-like ears. Fully mature bulls average over 3m in height and 5,000kg in weight, with females considerably smaller at 2.5m and 3,000kg. 


Elephants are mixed feeders, thriving in habitats which provide both grass and shrub feed, but have to travel large distances to source enough food to sustain their bulk. This is particularly the case for family herds of female elephants and young, which average at 9-11 individuals, with adults consuming 4-6 per cent of their body weight daily. Their digestive system is relatively inefficient, with only 44 per cent of food absorbed, requiring them to eat almost constantly.

Elephants have a greater environmental impact than any mammal other than man. The movement of herds through brush creates paths towards water sources used by a number of other species. Elephants will dig in dry river beds with their front feet to source clean, fresh water, creating wells in dry areas. They will also ring-bark trees and push them down, bringing food within reach of smaller browsers. However, this destruction of trees has transformed many national parks where the boundaries prevent elephants from migrating, which has historically reduced the environmental damage of these giant mammals, and even contributed to habitat diversity and soil turnover. 


African Elephants have been considered for separation into three separate species: the Savanna Elephant, Forest Elephant and West African Elephant. The differences in habitat between these population have caused morphological adaptations which makes each distinct, but they remained classified as one species.

The Savanna Elephant can be found in lowland and montane forests, upland moors and low-lying swamps, floodplains and woodland. The Savanna Elephant is the largest, as male Forest Elephants rarely exceed 2.5m, and have more curving tusks than their forest cousins. 

Threats and Conservation

As mentioned previously, the destruction wrought by elephants on wooded habitats is more severe due to the lack of connectivity between habitats to facilitate migration across the African continent. Some national parks have resorted to culls of elephants to try to protect habitats, which is a highly difficult task due to the strong familial bonds between members of elephant herds. However, habitat loss and fragmentation is the root of the problem, which is caused by human population expansion and rapid land conversion.

The poaching of elephants for ivory has been an increasingly devastating threat to populations of African Elephants for the past century.  The value of ivory has tempted members of poor rural areas to become poachers, which can cause divides in communities between poachers and conservationists.

Protecting elephants from ivory poaching has taken three main approaches: raising global awareness, pushing for legislative protection and ivory trade bans and protection on the ground by armed rangers. 


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