African forest elephant
|African forest elephant|
The African forest elephant is famous for being among the largest mammals on earth. It is one of the two types of African Elephants along with the more famous African bush elephant. They are more new as a species than bush elephants and thus less is known about them. As a species, they are one of the most intelligent animals on earth and have the largest brain of any mammal. They are an endangered species and their population has dropped to less than 100,000 over the last few decades, mostly because of poaching. However they are making a comeback because of more highly reinforced anti-poaching laws and more protection.
African Forest Elephants are often smaller than most other subspecies of elephant. They have rounded, oval shaped ears which they use to cool themselves and give them excellent hearing. Their skulls and skeletons are slightly different in shape from most other elephants. Depending on the age and diet of the animal, African Forest Elephants can grow to be anywhere between 8-10 feet tall and can weigh anywhere between 2-5 tons.  Their tusks, instead of curving outwards as the Savannah Elephant's do, curve downwards and are straight and more pointed. These tusks can sometimes grow nearly five feet long and generally weigh about 50-100 pounds.
These tusks are more valued by poachers than any other elephant because the ivory is harder whilst still retaining its elastic properties. Forest elephants also have very thick hides with no sweat glands. This means that they must instead rely on their large ears as cooling mechanisms. They also take dust, mud and river baths as a part of their daily routines as a means of staying cool and protection from the harsh African sun. Elephants also have special patches on their skin that allows them to prevent internal heating. Along with these other features, African elephants are also famous for having the largest brains of any mammal.
In many ways the African Forest Elephant's life cycle, except for the gestation period, is actually surprisingly similar to the human life cycle. For instance the extent of this life cycle consists of two main periods, or stages: the baby stage, the adolescents stage and the adult stage. The average gestation period (or period which the fetus is within the womb) is 22 months, nearly 2 years. The average Forest Elephant often live to be about 70 years old. Forest elephants, really elephants in general, are very social and emotional, making them very dependent on their mother. For the first 3-5 months of their lives most elephant calves are totally dependent on their mothers for their nutrition, hygiene, migration and health. The adolescence stage spans from the end of the baby stage until about age 17. The point where it reaches sexual maturity is usually anywhere between age 8-13 though they usually do not mate until they are about 20. The adult stage usually starts at age 18.
Around the adolescence stage groups of young elephants, specifically the bulls (males), tend to break off into their own separate pods. These male pods are often referred to as "Bachelor Pods" and will often join the main pod only during mating season. Females, however, are more likely to stick to the main matriarchal herd. This is why forest elephants are often observed inpods of mainly one gender. Female pods are responsible for birthing, feeding and raising the 250 pound newborns. Males, while usually staying separate from the female pods, are in charge of protecting from threats such as lions, rhinos, humans and other predators.
African Forest elephants are most often found in the Congo Basin area. As the name implies, African forest elephants occupy the forests of Africa, specifically the central, eastern areas of the continent around the Congo basin (see picture). Forest elephants enjoy bathing in pools and mud wallows and can often be observed swimming in the wild. They are attracted to forest clearings where they congregate with other pods, or tribal groups as they are sometimes called, and mate with other elephants. Elephants are herbivores, meaning they have an all-plant diet, and eat mostly tree leaves and barks. However fruit remains the African forest elephant's favorite food.
Elephants have a complex social structure and are very dependent on each other, especially in their adolescence. They communicate with each other, as well as with other elephant pods, by using a series of low-frequency sounds. they are capable of understanding these calls up to 2.5 km (1.5 miles). Forest elephants are ecologically important to their habitat because they disperse seeds through their consumption of fruit. They are also responsible for creating and maintaining large clearings in the middle of rain forests, in areas where they extract mineral salts from the soil or tear down vegetation as they eat and travel.
Forest elephants are found in dense forests and are essential for the germination of many rain forest trees. Because of this, it is extremely important for the environment that they remain in their natural habitat. However, because of the value of the ivory in their tusks and for their popularity as trophies, they have been hunted extensively. Tens of thousands of elephants are still killed today, despite the ban on the international trade in ivory. Another threat to the African forest elephant is habitat loss. Most elephant habitat still extends outside protected areas, and because of the rapid growth of human populations and the extension of agriculture into local rangelands and forests mean that elephant habitat is continuing to be lost. Forest elephants also often wander into local villages and eat crops. This often results in the elephants in question being hunted down and shot to reduce crop loss.
There have been several conservation efforts made to save the African forest elephants. A ban on the trade of elephant products, such as ivory, in 1990 greatly raised elephant population though poachers still illegally sell these products on the black markets. The African Elephant Specialist Group facilitate elephant protection in rain forests especially. Because it is so hard to track elephants in dense rain forests, especially considering their nomadic habits, the African elephant population is unknown and thus quite difficult to control and protect. However, with the help of the ivory trade ban and AESG's efforts, observed population has grown exponentially in the last ten years.
Tracking A mother forest elephant and her baby
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