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Friday, 1 April 2016

African Forest Elephant: Animal Fact Series Part 3

The African Forest Elephant:

Until recently the African elephant was classed as a single species but now has been split in two. I have worked along both species. I worked alongside the forest ones in Congo but more so in Gabon. So let's get some basic facts down.

Common Name: African Forest Elephant
Other names: Pygmy Elephant
Latin name: Loxodonta cyclotis
Location: Congo Basin, Africa
Habitat: Rainforest
Status: Vulnerable
Population: less than 100,000

So as I said the African elephant has been split two. The bush and the forest elephant. The differences are many. Straighter, yellowish tusks, longer legs, less wrinkled skin and smaller ears are all characteristics of the forest elephant. They also have 5 toes on the fore and 4 toes on the rear feet. One more than the bush. They are also more aggressive.

I found this out the hard way in Gabon. In Congo, I never had any issues and only heard them. In Gabon, I was chased by them. The best advice on wildlife charges is don't run but I was working with local pygmies. They fly through the forest so for them its best to run. Howvwer for westernedrs the forest is hard to run in so its not the best option except the elephant has had its fight reaction triggered so you run too. Let me tell you now it is one of the most terrifying things you can ever experience. 2.5 tonnes of angry elephant wanting to squash you. If you hear them trumpet you are a bit better off as its probably a mock charge. It's the silent one that are the worst. Surprisingly the elephants are like ghosts, they can appear out of nowhere. These were the most dangerous. One time I tripped and was saved by a gorilla. As I tripped the silverback we were following became confuse and charged too. This confused the elephant who stopped and ran away. I have never been more afraid in my life. The gorilla saw it was me and ignored me.

Another time we were walking along a spit of land in the forest surrounded by thick, muddy swamp. One of the trackers started running. There were three elephants coming along the land but had yet to see us. We couldn't run into the swamp as the gorilla were there. We had nowhere to go so climbed a tree. Luckily the elephants didn't try and shake us down. They walked up. Sniffed the air and ran off.

The elephants have an aggressive nature but if treated correct they can be quite docile. We had a female and two calves visit the camp to eat from the mango tree. they knew we were there so were not startled. As long as we kept a safe distance they were fine with us. They are incredibly intelligent and I'm sure they realised we meant them no harm. The video at the end here shows that family.

They are more solitary than the bush elephant often just one or two individuals. More often these are mother and calf. However, they do gather in large numbers at special places called a bai. These are large clearings made by the elephant. They gather to socialise but mainly to mine rare salts.

The elephant are important for maintaining the forest. Many seeds are spread by them. The digestive system is very poor and seeds often pass through. The elephants also clear old growth to make way for new. In short they are gardeners of the forest. Without them, the forests would break down. They keep the planets lungs breathing. We need them but they are being wiped out for ivory.