With a height of over 11 feet at the shoulder, and weighing upwards of 6 tons, elephants are the largest terrestrial animal.
It is widely accepted that there are two species, the African elephant and the Asian elephant. Within these species, there are several subspecies. For the African elephant, these include the savanna elephant and the forest elephant. For the Asian elephant, these include the Borneo pygmy elephant, the Sri Lankan elephant, the Sumatran elephant, and the Indian elephant.
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VU – Vulnerable
EN – Endangered
Population & Range
The most up-to-date and comprehensive information on the status of the African elephant is contained within the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) 2016 African Elephant Status Report.
According to this report, statistics on the current population and distribution of the African elephant are as follows:
- “The estimated number of elephants in areas surveyed in the last ten years in Africa is 415,428 ± 20,111 at the time of the last survey for each area. There may be an additional 117,127 to 135,384 elephants in areas not systematically surveyed. Together, this estimate and guess apply to 1,932,732 km², which is 62% of the estimated known and possible elephant range.
- There remains an additional 38% of range for which no elephant population estimates are available, although it is likely that average elephant densities in this range are much lower than in the surveyed areas.”
- The 2016 AESR is the first in 25 years to report a continental decline in elephant numbers.
- “Between the AESR 2007 and [AESR 2016] report, there has been a reduction of approximately 118,000 in estimates for populations where comparable surveys have been carried out. However, some populations have been surveyed for the first time, particularly in Central Africa, and this has led to an increase of approximately 18,000 in the “new population” category. The result is that the total estimated number of elephants from surveys has decreased by a smaller figure of about 93,000 since the AESR 2007.”
- “The estimated number of elephants from surveys and guesses combined has decreased since the AESR 2007 by about 104,000-114,000.”
- “The decline is largely caused by the surge in poaching for ivory that began around 2006 (CITES, 2016), the worst that Africa has experienced since the 1970s and 1980s. Losses in Tanzania account for the major share of this decline. Other underlying drivers of population decline, such as loss of habitat and increasing human elephant conflict, are still of critical conservation importance…”
The current range for the African elephant includes:
- Central Africa
- Central African Republic
- Democratic Republic of Congo
- Equatorial Guinea
- Eastern Africa
- South Sudan
- Southern Africa
- South Africa
- West Africa
- Burkina Faso
- Cote d’Ivoire
- Guinea Bissau
- Sierra Leone
Map Credit: African Elephant Specialist Group
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Asian elephant population is estimated at 41,410-52,345.1 However, the available data is outdated, and the overall population trend is downward.
The current range for the Asian elephant includes, “Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka in South Asia, and Cambodia, China, Indonesia (Kalimantan and Sumatra) Lao PDR, Malaysia (Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah), Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam in South-east Asia.”2
Map Credit: IUCN Red List
Top Threats to Elephants
An estimated 27,000 elephants are poached every year for their ivory, with key markets in China, the United States, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Habitat loss and fragmentation are the most pressing threats to elephants.
Habitat fragmentation confines elephants to smaller patches of land, leading to human-elephant conflict.
1 & 2 Choudhury, A., Lahiri Choudhury, D.K., Desai, A., Duckworth, J.W., Easa, P.S., Johnsingh, A.J.T., Fernando, P., Hedges, S., Gunawardena, M., Kurt, F., Karanth, U., Lister, A., Menon, V., Riddle, H., Rübel, A. & Wikramanayake, E. (IUCN SSC Asian Elephant Specialist Group). 2008. Elephas maximus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T7140A12828813. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2008.RLTS.T7140A12828813.en. Downloaded on 24 October 2017.
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