An official assessment on African elephants conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has revealed that the elephants are more endangered than previously thought. The assessment now ranks African forest elephants as critically endangered and African savanna elephants as endangered.
Previously, elephants were only classified as either African or Asian. However, African elephants include two species, the forest elephants and the savanna elephants. The African forest elephants are smaller in size as compared to their savanna counterparts. The savanna elephants are commonly found in sub-Saharan Africa, while the forest elephants stay within the central and western regions of Africa.
“The potential positive conservation impact of splitting forest and savanna elephants into separate species cannot be overstated,” said Bas Huijbregts of World Wildlife Fund. “Challenges to both species are very different, as are the pathways to their recovery.”
African elephants face many threats, including poaching and human-wildlife conflicts, among others. According to IUCN’s Kathleen Gobush, who was also the leader of the assessment, poaching remains the worst problem.
“For both species, poaching is still the biggest driver of decline,” Gobush said. “These assessments hopefully will garner renewed attention for the world to double down on stopping the killing, trafficking, and demand for ivory.”
The number of African elephants has been on the decline in the past few decades. Over a period of 31 years, approximately 86% of African forest elephants have been lost to various factors. According to IUCN, African savanna elephants have decreased by 60% in the past 50 years. Today, only a total of 415,000 of both species are left on the continent.
While African elephants have been on the decline, the assessment has also found that swift, positive actions might be helpful in restoring their populations. If elephants are protected and given the chance to rejuvenate, their populations can bounce back. Case in point, the Tsavo National Park in Kenya has witnessed an increase in its elephant population, from 6,500 in 1988 to about 17,000 today.
Image via Ray in Manila