African forest elephant

African Forest Elephant.jpg
The African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) is a forest-dwelling species of elephant found in the Congo Basin. It is the smallest of the three extant species of elephant, but still one of the largest living terrestrial animals. The African forest elephant and the African bush elephant, L. africana, were considered to be one species until genetic studies indicated that they separated an estimated 2–7 million years ago. From an estimated population size of over 2 million prior to the colonization of Africa, the population in 2015 is estimated to be about 100,000 forest elephants, mostly living in the forests of Gabon. Due to a slower birth rate, the forest elephant takes longer to recover from poaching, which caused its population to fall by 65% from 2002 to 2014. It is estimated that the forest elephant could become extinct within ten years.

The African forest elephant was once considered to be a subspecies, Loxodonta africana cyclotis, of the African elephant, together with the African bush elephant. DNA tests, however, indicated that the two populations were much more genetically distinct than previously believed. In 2010, a genetic study confirmed they are separate species which diverged from each other an estimated two to seven million years ago. Still, many governmental (e.g. USFWS) and non-governmental agencies (e.g. IUCN) consider the forest elephant to be a subspecies for regulatory and conservation purposes. In 2016, DNA sequence analysis showed that L. cyclotis is more closely related to the extinct European straight-tusked elephant, Palaeoloxodon antiquus, than it is to L. africana.

The disputed pygmy elephants of the Congo Basin, formerly considered to be a separate species (Loxodonta pumilio) are probably forest elephants whose diminutive size or early maturity is due to environmental conditions.

Generally, these forest-dwelling elephants are smaller and darker than their savanna relatives, the bush elephants. The species normally has five toenails on the forefoot and four on the hind foot, like the Asian elephant but unlike the African bush elephant which normally has four toenails on the forefoot and three on the hind foot. They also protect themselves from the sun by using sand.

A male African forest elephant rarely exceeds 2.5 m (8.2 ft) in height, considerably smaller than the bush species which is usually over 3 m (9.8 ft) and sometimes almost 4 m (13.1 ft) tall. L. cyclotis reportedly weighs around 2.7 tonnes (5,950 lb), with the largest specimens attaining 6 tonnes (13,230 lb). Pygmy elephants of the Congo Basin, presumed to be a subgroup of L. cyclotis, have reportedly weighed as little as 900 kg (1,980 lb) as adults.

Elephants have sensitive skin which can make them prone to sunburn, especially when young. The wrinkles in the elephants skin help keep them cool by giving heat a larger surface area through which it can dissipate. The creases in the hide of the elephant trap and absorb moisture longer than one with smooth skin; that prolongs the evaporation process, which sanctions the elephant to release up to 75 percent of its body heat. Since these elephants live in areas where temperatures can reach up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 °C) in the daytime, the forest elephants skin in significantly more wrinkled than Asian elephants.

This page was last edited on 24 April 2018, at 16:05.
Reference: under CC BY-SA license.

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