This lesser-known elephant is crucial to its ecosystem’s survival

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Forest Elephant

Conservation Status:


  • Found in 4 countries
  • More than 60% poached in last decade
  • Inhabit just 25% of their historic range

Quick Facts

Scientific Name

Loxodonta cyclotis


2.7 – 6 tons


Up to 6 ft.


60 – 70 years






22-24 months




Where do forest elephants live?

Forest elephants, as their name suggests, live in Africa’s forests. While they once inhabited a larger range, they now are confined to the tropical forests of equatorial west and central Africa.

Tags: DRC, Southern Africa, West/Central Africa, Congo, Cameroon, Faro View Africa | Habitat

Physical Characteristics

What are forest elephants?

Long considered to be a subspecies of the African elephant, the Africa forest elephant is now considered by many scientists to be its own species—separate from the African savanna, or bush, elephant. It is smaller than the better-known savanna elephant, has tusks that are straight and point downward, unlike the savanna elephants curved tusks, and has rounded ears while the savanna elephant’s ears are more pointed. The forest elephant also has 5 toenails on each forefoot and four on its hind feet, like the Asian elephant, and the savanna elephant typically has four on its fore feet and three on its hind feet.

Behavior & Diet

Forest elephants have a craving for salt.

Forest elephants are herbivores, eating a diet filled with leaves, high amounts of fruit, and tree bark. They also visit salt, or mineral, licks, which provide them with necessary minerals missing from their diets.

Their forests need them as much as they need their forests.

Forest elephants ensure the survival of their ecosystems. They maintain biodiversity—by dispersing plants—in one of the Earth’s critical carbon sequestering tropical forests. Forest elephants also clear paths that other animals depend upon.

Forest elephants are a mystery to humans.

While scientists have begun studying the forest elephant, there is much less information about it than the more famous savanna elephant. Forest elephants are elusive and there is little scientific data about their ranges, movements, and habitat requirements.  

  • Forest Elephant Family
  • African Forest Elephant
  • African Forest Elephant
  • African forest elephant calf
  • African Forest Elephant
  • African Forest Elephant

Forest elephants have been cursed with ivory.

Like all elephants, the forest elephant has beautiful tusks on either side of its face. Unfortunately, this ivory makes it a target for poachers who slaughter elephants to obtain it. About 62% of all forest elephants have been killed for their ivory in the last decade. 

Their elusiveness makes them difficult to conserve.

Scientists are just beginning to understand the forest elephant’s habits, patterns, and movements. Lack of knowledge is a barrier to protecting these animals.  


Our solutions to protecting and conserving the forest elephant:

  • Proper conservation cannot occur before research.

    AWF is funding research, like the PLOS ONE study, to create comprehensive data on the forest elephant. This groundbreaking study has the largest dataset on forest elephants and its findings showed that forest elephant populations have declined dramatically—by 62%—in the last decade. 

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