Elephants

African elephant (Loxodonta africana), bull with large tusks. Amboseli National Park, Kenya. ... / ©: Martin Harvey / WWF-Canon
African elephant (Loxodonta africana), bull with large tusks. Amboseli National Park, Kenya. Distribution Sub-Saharan Africa.
© Martin Harvey / WWF-Canon
Once common throughout Africa and Asia, elephant numbers were severely depleted in the 20th century, largely due to the massive ivory trade. While some populations are now stable and growing, poaching, conflict and habitat destruction continue to threaten these species.

Borneo elephant; Sumatran elephant; African savanna elephant

The largest living land mammal on Earth, the African elephant, can weigh over six tonnes. The elephant is distinguished by its massive body, large ears and a long trunk, which has many uses ranging from food gathering, to using it as a hand to pick up objects, as a horn to trumpet warnings, as an arm raised in greeting, or as a hose for drinking water or bathing.

Asian elephants differ in several ways from their African relatives. They are smaller in size and their ears are straight at the bottom, unlike the large fan-shaped ears of the African species.

Female Asian elephants commonly lack tusks but male and female African elephants usually have tusks. The digits of an elephant’s foot are not externally visible but the number of toenails that an elephant has varies depending on the species.

Led by a matriarch, elephants are organised into complex social structures of females and calves, while male elephants tend to live in isolation. During an expected lifespan of about 60 years, a female may give birth to between five and fifteen calves. The gestation period for African elephants is 22 months - the longest of any mammal.

Both African and Asian elephants need extensive land to survive.


Threats to elephants

Illegal wildlife trade
In 1989, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) banned the international trade in ivory.

However, there are still some thriving but unregulated domestic ivory markets in a number of countries, which fuel an illegal international trade. Poaching to meet growing demand from affluent Asian countries is driving up the rate of poaching.

Habitat loss
Elephants are also losing their habitats - and ancient migratory routes - due to expanding human settlements, plantation development and the construction of infrastructure such as roads, canals and pipelines. As a result, the level of human-elephant conflict rises as elephants are forced to try access resources.

What WWF is doing for elephants

  • Reducing conflict between people and elephants
WWF helps train wildlife managers and local communities to mitigate human-elephant conflict.
  • Strengthening anti-poaching initiatives
WWF helps to train and equip rangers and community-based operations on the front lines of the fight against wildlife crime.
  • Stopping illegal ivory trade
WWF works with TRAFFIC, the international wildlife trade monitoring network, to reduce the major threat that illegal and illicit domestic ivory markets pose to wild elephants.
  • Protecting elephant habitat
WWF works with state governments, local people and non-governmental partners to secure a future for elephants by advocating for large conservation landscapes.

ILLEGAL WILDLIFE TRADE

Elephant tusks stored away under extreme security measures  in the ivory stock pile of the Kruger ... / ©: WWF-Canon / Folke Wulf
Elephants have long been hunted for their precious ivory tusks.

Today, the killing of elephants driven by the illegal ivory trade has reached crisis levels in Africa. Despite the ivory trade being banned in 1989, every year over 12,000 elephants are killed in central Africa.

Often killed by helicopter-borne attacks by professionals who swoop over their quarry, the elephant horns are then removed and smuggled on the ‘Ivory Road’ linking Africa to Asia.

Learn more about Illegal Wildlife Trade.
Infographic: The elephant in the room / ©: WWF
© WWF
African elephant (Loxodonta africana) bull, menacing, Tanzania. / ©: Steve Morello / WWF-Canon
African elephant (Loxodonta africana) bull, menacing, Tanzania.
© Steve Morello / WWF-Canon

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