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CONSERVATION / PEST STATUS - Editorial Comment

Editorial Comment (Editorial Overview Text Replicated on Overall Species page - Loxodonta africana - African Elephant)

WILD POPULATION - IMPORTANCE: Endangered. Numbers of elephants in Africa (combined Loxodonta africana - African Elephant and Loxodonta cyclotis - Forest Elephant) have been reduced from probably several million individuals across Africa in the first half of the Twentieth century to 1.3 million by 1979 and 625,000 - 606,000 by 1989. Elephants are considered as "keystone species", important for the health of their ecosystem.

GENERAL LEGISLATION: --

CITES LISTING: CITES Appendix I, "Except the populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, which are included in Appendix II."(W354.Aug11.w1)

RED-DATA LIST STATUS: Vulnerable: VU A2a (criteria defined in version 3.1, 2001) [(combined Loxodonta africana - African Elephant and Loxodonta cyclotis - Forest Elephant)].

THREATS: African elephants (Loxodonta africana - African Elephant and Loxodonta cyclotis - Forest Elephant) are threatened by the international ivory trade, deforestation and human encroachment into their habitats, with resultant increased conflicts with humans. Exploitation for ivory results in the oldest elephants being killed, which upsets the social structure and age structure of the population. Both African elephant species are threatened also by the bushmeat trade.

PEST STATUS / PEST POPULATIONS: Elephants are designated as pests when, with their habitat surrounded by agriculture, and their designated areas not supporting their natural movements, they move out into agricultural areas and raid crops or kill humans.

CAPTIVE POPULATIONS: African elephants are maintained in a number of zoos around the world, with a total captive population of about 1,000. However, to date, reproduction in zoos has been insufficient to develop a self-sustaining population. 

TRADE AND USE: African elephants have been used consumptively for a long time, particularly for their ivory but also for meat and hides. More recently, elephants have been used for tourism; it is probable that they are underutilised for tourism and more could be made of this.

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Wild Population - Importance

Source Information Endangered. Numbers of elephants in Africa (combined Loxodonta africana - African Elephant and Loxodonta cyclotis - Forest Elephant) have been reduced from probably several million individuals across Africa in the first half of the Twentieth century to 1.3 million by 1979 and 625,000 - 606,000 by 1989.
  • This species is endangered. (B285.w3)
  • There were probably several million African elephants (combined Loxodonta africana - African Elephant and Loxodonta cyclotis - Forest Elephant) over the whole of Africa during most of the first half of the twentieth century. By 1979 the total population of African elephants was estimated as at least 1.3 million, but by 1989 it was estimated to have decreased to only 625,000. (B147)
  • It was estimate that populations of African elephants ((combined Loxodonta africana - African Elephant and Loxodonta cyclotis - Forest Elephant)) fell from 1.3 million in 1979 to 606,000 in 1989, i.e. a loss of more than 50% of the population in just ten years. (B285.w3)
  • Elephants are "keystone species", important for their ecosystem and benefiting it in many ways: "dispersing seeds, transforming savannas into grasslands, distributing nutrients in their dung, providing water for other species by digging waterholes, supplying food for birds by disturbing insects and small animals while walking in tall grass, and even alerting small animals to approaching predators. Moreover, since larger species require greater quantities of food and water and larger home ranges than smaller species, an area large enough to support an elephant will automatically support several other species." (B285.w3)
  • In a GPS study of a forest elephant in Central Africa (darted in Nouabele-Ndoki National Park), it was noted that although the female elephant was darted in the centre of the national park, created largely for elephant conservation, her travels took her out of the park, across an international boundary, and across a second national park. This indicates the need to plan elephant conservation on larger geographical scales. (J183.39.w1)

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General Legislation
Source Information --
  • --

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CITES Listing

Source Information
  • CITES Appendix I, "Except the populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, which are included in Appendix II." (W354.Aug11.w1)

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Red-Data List Status

Source Information

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Threats

Source Information Summary: Elephants in Africa are threatened by the international ivory trade, deforestation and human encroachment into their habitats, with resultant increased conflicts with humans. Exploitation for ivory results in the oldest elephants being killed, which upsets the social structure and age structure of the population. Both African elephant species are threatened also by the bushmeat trade.
  • African elephants continue to be threatened by the international ivory trade. (B147)
  • Exploitation for ivory not only results in a population decline but also upsets the age structure and social structure of the population: old bulls, which generally have the largest tusks, are the first main target for ivory hunters; this reduces the percentage of adult males in the population and can reduce it so far that females in oestrus are unable to attract a mate. After this, the older females - the leaders of the herds and the most successful mothers - are targeted. When animals with large tusks have been eliminated, populations may consist mainly of juveniles, less than 15 years old. Eventually even the juveniles with only small tusks are killed. (B147)
  • It is argued that a properly regulated ivory trade, by providing an economic value for elephants, can both encourage and fund elephant conservation. Conversely, it is argued that it is this value of elephants for ivory that has led to the destruction of elephant herds. (B147)
  • African elephants are threatened by the continuing deforestation and human encroachment onto their habitats, resulting in range restrictions, migratory routes being cut off, and increased conflict with humans. (B285.w3)
  • There are widely varying human attitudes towards elephants: many agriculturists in elephant areas feel animosity to elephants, many local people are indifferent, some pastoralists (Maasai, Samburu) are tolerant, and tourists adore elephants. (B285.w3)
  • Education may encourage more positive attitudes towards elephants: as cultural assets, or at least as a possible source of income. (B285.w3)
  • The major threat to African elephants has been hunting and poaching for ivory. Tens of thousands of elephants have also been shot as a control measure to reduce crop depredation. (B396.8.w8)
  • Poaching for ivory is a continuing problem for elephants in Africa. (D307.2.6.w9)
  • In recent years there has been an increase in the killing of African elephants for meat as well as, and even rather than, for ivory. Most elephants are not in protected areas and even in theoretically protected areas protection is often lacking in the field. Hunting of elephants for food has increased where humans are displaced into elephant habitat due to war, civil strife and political instability. Additionally, international logging concessions open up access to dense forests for hunters, bring in loggers, which dramatically increases local demand for meat, and provide a mechanism for illegally killed meat to be transported and sold. (W650.Jul06.w1)

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Pest Status / Pest Populations

Source Information Elephants are designated as pests when, with their habitat surrounded by agriculture, and their designated areas not supporting their natural movements, they move out into agricultural areas and raid crops or kill humans.
  • Humans and elephants are in competition for land. (B389.21.w21)
  • Elephants are designated as pests when, with their habitat surrounded by agriculture, and their designated areas not supporting their natural movements, they move out into agricultural areas and raid crops. (B389.21.w21)
  • Elephants have raided crops probably since humans started to cultivate them. (B396.8.w8)
    • Various cereals will be taken. (B396.8.w8)
    • Sugarcane, legumes such as beans, coconut, oil and other cultivated palms, even ripe coffee (Coffea arabica) berries, as well as fruits and vegetables are taken. (B396.8.w8)
    • With banana palms, rather than the fruit, the fibrous pith is favoured, with the stem crushed to extract this. (B396.8.w8)
    • As much as 60% of the damage caused by crop raiding elephants may be due to trampling rather than food eaten. (B396.8.w8)
    • More crop raiding is carried out by bulls than by family groups. (B396.8.w8)
    • Raiding by female-led herds appears to increase as habitat becomes fragmented. (B396.8.w8)
    • Where elephant habitat or home range has been converted to cultivation, particularly over a short time frame, this is likely to result in crop depredation. (B396.8.w8)
    • Elephants may raid crops as they come close to cultivated areas during normal movements aimed at utilising seasonal food resources, but may also raid crops deliberately and even make movements with the aim of crop raiding. (B396.8.w8)
    • Crops may also be trampled and raided as elephants move to available water. (B396.8.w8)
    • It is possible that individual elephants develop a taste or "addiction" to certain crops. (B396.8.w8)
  • Every year, elephants in Africa (and Asia) cause considerable damage to subsistence-level agriculture and to commercial crops. (D307.2.6.w9)
  • Elephants sometimes kill humans. (B384.12.w12)
  • Elephants sometimes kill humans. The annual number killed by elephants in Africa is less than the number killed in Asia. Nevertheless about 50 people a year may be killed by elephants in Kenya. (B396.8.w8)
  • Note: elephants in areas where they have not been harassed by ivory poachers may be more peaceful towards humans than those from areas which have been hunted for ivory. (B396.8.w8)
    • This behaviour may be learned directly, or learned aggression may then be passed down the generations. (B396.8.w8)
  • Most killings of people are carried out by bulls. (B396.8.w8)

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Captive Populations

Source Information African elephants are maintained in a number of zoos around the world, with a total captive population of about 1,000. However, to date, reproduction in zoos has been insufficient to develop a self-sustaining population. 
  • ISIS lists 332 African elephants [including all listed subspecies except Loxodonta africana cyclotis] in ISIS member zoos worldwide, with two births in the last six months. (W520.Sept05.w1)
  • There are presently 19.128 African elephants in AZA zoos. (N23.2006.w1)
  • There are about 1,000 African elephants in captivity. (J23.40.w1)

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Trade and Use

Source Information African elephants have been used consumptively for a long time, particularly for their ivory but also for meat and hides. More recently, elephants have been used for tourism; it is probable that they are underutilised for tourism and more could be made of this.
  • Elephants can be utilised non-consumptively, for tourism; this form of use could be improved and made more of. (B389.21.w21)
  • Elephants have been used consumptively for a long time, both locally (e.g. for meat) and for the local and international trade in ivory and hides. (B389.21.w21)

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Authors & Referees

Authors Dr Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)
Referee Susan K. Mikota DVM (V.w72)

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