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Biodiversity & Environment

African Elephants

  • 27 Mar 2021
  • 3 min read

Why in News

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has declared African Forest and Savanna (or bush) elephants as ‘critically endangered’ and ‘endangered’ respectively.

  • Earlier, African elephants were treated as a single species, listed as Vulnerable. This is the first time the two species have been assessed separately for the IUCN Red List.

Key Points

  • About:
    • African elephants are the largest land animals on Earth. They are slightly larger than Asian elephants.
    • They have two fingerlike features on the end of their trunk while Asian elephants have just one.
    • Elephants are matriarchal, meaning they live in female-led groups.
    • African elephants are keystone species, meaning they play a critical role in their ecosystem. Also known as “ecosystem engineers,” elephants shape their habitat in many ways.
    • Elephants have a longer pregnancy than any other mammal—almost 22 months. This compounds the problem of conservation since there are simply not enough calves being born to make up for the losses from poaching.
    • There are two subspecies of African elephants, the Savanna (or bush) elephant and the Forest elephant. Savanna elephants are the larger of two.
  • African Savanna Elephant:
    • Scientific Name: Loxodonta africana
    • Decline: Dropped by 60% in the last 50 years.
    • IUCN Status: Endangered
    • Habitat: Plains of sub-Saharan Africa
  • African Forest Elephant:
    • Scientific Name: Loxodonta cyclotis
    • Decline: Dropped by 86% in the last 31 years.
    • IUCN Status: Critically Endangered
    • Habitat: Forests of Central and West Africa. They rarely overlap with the range of the savanna elephant.
      • The forest elephant has a more restricted natural distribution. Therefore, its decline is especially worrying.
      • While savanna elephant populations can bounce back given sufficient protection, the forest elephant is likely to recover much more slowly.
      • Law enforcement is also more problematic in many Central African countries which are home to the forest elephant.
  • Threats:
    • Poaching for the illegal ivory trade.
      • Regions with high levels of poverty and corruption are more likely to have higher poaching rates. This suggests that helping communities develop sustainable livelihoods could reduce the lure of poaching.
    • Habitat Loss: Increasing human population, and conversion of land for agriculture and development.

Asian Elephants

  • There are three subspecies of Asian elephant which are the Indian, Sumatran and Sri Lankan.
  • Global Population:
    • Estimated 20,000 to 40,000.
  • The Indian subspecies has the widest range and accounts for the majority of the remaining elephants on the continent.
  • There are around 28,000 elephants in India with around 25% of them in Karnataka.
  • Protection Status:

Source: DTE

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