African Forest Elephant – Description, Diet, Personality, And Fun Facts

By Kevin Myers | 2023 Update

Let’s talk about the African Forest Elephant—these fellas are the unsung rockstars of the African jungle!

Picture an elephant, but a little smaller, living life in the thick, leafy rainforests instead of the wide open savannah. They’re like nature’s bulldozers, bashing their way through the undergrowth, making paths that other animals can use.

But wait, there’s more.

Poaching and habitat destruction are real threats they face every day. As we talk about these amazing creatures, we’ve got to remember our part in making this world a safe place for not only them, but for the whole wild.

CharacteristicsAfrican Forest Elephant
Scientific NameLoxodonta cyclotis
Average Height2 – 3 meters (6.5 – 10 feet)
Average Weight2,000 – 4,500 kg (4,400 – 9,920 lbs)
LifespanUp to 60 – 70 years
DietHerbivore (fruits, leaves, bark, and twigs)
PredatorsHumans (primary predator due to hunting and poaching)
HabitatTropical rainforests of Central and West Africa
Conservation StatusEndangered
Unique FeaturesSmaller than other elephant species, round-shaped ears, longer, straighter tusks, and a downturned trunk
Social StructureFemale-led family groups; males are typically solitary
ReproductionGestation period of about 22 months, usually one calf per birth

African Forest Elephant Pictures

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What is an African Forest Elephant?

Origin and Evolution

Elephants are ancient creatures, with roots that go back about 60 million years to a group of critters called proboscideans. Sounds like a mouthful, huh? Basically, it means ‘animals with trunks’.

Now, our African Forest Elephants are part of the family too, but they didn’t really start to look like the elephants we know and love until about 6 million years ago. That’s when they branched off from their bigger cousins, the African Savannah Elephants.

Forest Elephants adapted perfectly to life in the thick rainforests. They became a bit smaller, their tusks became straighter to navigate through the trees, and their ears got rounder. Cool, right? Evolution really knew what it was doing!

But here’s a plot twist! Until recently, we thought there was just one type of African Elephant. But in 2010, DNA studies showed that Forest and Savannah Elephants are as different from each other as Asian Elephants are from Woolly Mammoths. So, we’re talking about two entirely different species!

Physical features and Adaptations

So, let’s chat about what makes the African Forest Elephant such a unique beastie, shall we? They’ve got a ton of physical features and adaptations perfect for life in the rainforest.

1. Size and Shape

First off, they’re smaller than their Savannah cousins. We’re talking about 8 to 10 feet at the shoulder, which is still pretty huge by any standard, but it’s just the right size to move around in dense forest terrain without getting stuck between trees.

2. Tusks

Next up, their tusks. These babies are straighter and point downwards, which is super handy for navigating through the undergrowth. They can also use them to dig for minerals in the ground or strip bark from trees for a tasty snack.

3. Ears and Skin

Now, let’s talk about their ears. They’ve got smaller, rounder ears compared to the large, fan-like ears of Savannah elephants. This is another smart adaptation for moving through the jungle without getting snagged on branches. Their skin is also a darker grey, which might be a result of the shadowy forest environment.

4. Feet

Last but not least, let’s not forget their feet. They’re more oval-shaped than the feet of Savannah elephants. This unique shape gives them a better grip and balance on the uneven forest floor.

Behavior and Lifestyle

1. Social Creatures

Ready to dive into the daily life of an African Forest Elephant? Cool! Let’s start with their social life. They’re less social than their Savannah relatives. Instead of large herds, they usually hang out in smaller family groups, often just a mother and her kids. But don’t worry, they’re not total loners. They have been known to form larger groups around a juicy fruit tree or a mineral-rich salt lick.

2. Communication Whizzes

And don’t get me started on their communication skills. They’ve got a whole range of sounds, from rumbles to trumpets, to chat with each other. They can even communicate through vibrations in the ground that they pick up with their sensitive feet. Talk about a good gossip network!

3. Big Appetites

As for their diet, they’re total foodies. They spend a lot of their time munching on leaves, fruit, bark, and roots. But they’re not just eating for the sake of it. They’re doing important work spreading seeds around the forest, helping to keep it healthy and diverse.

4. Roaming Rangers

They love a good wander too. These elephants have been known to travel far and wide in search of food and mineral licks. Their trails through the jungle can be used by other animals, making them sort of landscape architects of the rainforest.

Eating Habits

1. Eating Machines

When it comes to eating, African Forest Elephants are no joke. They’re like the vacuum cleaners of the forest, sucking up all kinds of plant matter. They’ve got quite an appetite and can eat up to 5% of their body weight every day. That’s like a 200-pound person eating 10 pounds of food daily!

2. Variety is the Spice of Life

Their menu is quite diverse too. They love leaves, fruit, bark, roots, and even a bit of soil for minerals. Favorite snacks include mangoes, leaves of the coffee family plants, and the bark of the kola nut tree. Yum!

3. Night Owls

African Forest Elephants are kind of night owls when it comes to dining. They mostly feed at night, probably because it’s cooler and there’s less chance of running into a human.

4. Nature’s Gardeners

But here’s the coolest thing: they don’t just eat plants—they help grow them too! As they eat, they swallow a lot of seeds, which pass through their system and get pooped out somewhere else. This helps to spread and germinate the seeds, which is great for the forest.

Distribution and Habitat

1. Home Sweet Home

Alright, so where can we find these fantastic forest-dwelling elephants? They live in the equatorial rainforest zone of West and Central Africa. We’re talking countries like Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Cameroon, and Ivory Coast. 

2. Rainforest Royals

Their favorite place to chill is, you guessed it, the rainforest. But they don’t just stick to one type of forest. They’re found in lowland tropical rainforests, montane forests, even swamps and riversides. Basically, if it’s lush, green, and packed full of tasty plants, they’re in!

3. Bingo, Bango, Bongo, I Don’t Want to Leave the Congo

The highest population density is in Gabon and the DRC, particularly in areas like the Minkebe Forest and the Ituri Forest. These areas are dense, remote, and full of the kinds of foods elephants love to eat.

4. Elephants on the Move

African Forest Elephants are also known to roam widely, especially in search of their favorite foods or mineral licks. They’ve even been known to create clearings in the forest, called bais, where they gather to socialize and munch on mineral-rich soil.

Predators and Threats

1. Who’s Hunting the Hunters?

You might be wondering who’d be bold enough to mess with these huge, strong animals. Well, when it comes to natural predators, adult African Forest Elephants don’t have much to worry about due to their size. The young ones, however, have to watch out for large predators like lions and crocodiles.

2. Man-Made Menaces

Now, the real threats these elephants face are from us, humans. And I’m not talking about some light squabble here. These threats are serious and have put African Forest Elephants on the endangered species list.

3. Poaching Problem

The biggest threat is poaching. Sadly, their long, straight tusks are highly prized for the ivory trade. It’s illegal, sure, but that hasn’t stopped it from happening, leading to a drastic decline in their numbers over the years.

4. Habitat Hassles

Then there’s habitat destruction. As we keep chopping down forests for timber, mining, and to make space for agriculture, these elephants are losing their homes. This not only leaves them homeless but also brings them closer to human settlements, leading to human-elephant conflicts.

5. Climate Change Concerns

Climate change is another looming threat. Changes in rainfall patterns could affect the availability of their food and water sources, disrupting their way of life.

Conservation Status and Life Today

1. Endangered and Threatened

As we speak, the African Forest Elephant is listed as Critically Endangered on the internationally recognized IUCN Red List. That’s the last step before extinct in the wild. Scary, right? 

2. Population Plunge

Their numbers have taken a serious hit over the past few decades, primarily due to poaching for ivory and habitat loss. Some estimates suggest that their population has fallen by more than 60% since the 2000s. 

3. Conservation Crusade

But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are people and organizations out there fighting to protect these amazing creatures. They’re working on anti-poaching initiatives, habitat conservation, and public education to change attitudes towards elephants and ivory. 

4. Protecting Their Turf

National parks and reserves are also playing a crucial role in providing safe habitats for these elephants. Places like Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Republic of Congo and Lopé National Park in Gabon are key sanctuaries.

5. Legislation and Legislation

Efforts have been intensified to enforce stricter laws and regulations aimed at curbing the ivory trade and safeguarding elephant habitats. Organizations, like the CITES, have played a critical role in driving these initiatives.

Reproduction and Lifespan


  • Gestation Period: Approximately 22 months, making it one of the longest gestation periods among mammals.
  • Mating Behavior: Breeding can occur year-round, but peak mating season varies across populations.
  • Offspring: Typically, a single calf is born, although twins can occur on rare occasions.
  • Maternal Care: Mothers provide extensive care for their calves, which includes nursing, protection, and teaching them essential skills.


  • Average Lifespan: African Forest Elephants can live up to 60 to 70 years in the wild.
  • Factors Affecting Lifespan: Various factors, such as predation, habitat quality, food availability, and human-related threats, can influence individual lifespan.

5 Incredible Fun Facts About African Forest Elephant

1. Super Senses

African Forest Elephants have an exceptional sense of smell, even better than a bloodhound’s! This super sniffer helps them find tasty treats in the dense jungle.

2. Marathon Walkers

These elephants are true explorers. They’ve been known to roam across thousands of square kilometers in search of food, water, and mates. Talk about a serious case of wanderlust!

3. Longest Gestation Period

Patience is a virtue, and female African Forest Elephants have it in spades. They have the longest recorded gestation period of any animal – about 22 months. That’s almost 2 years of pregnancy!

4. Unique Ivory

The ivory of the African Forest Elephant is unique. It’s denser and harder than the ivory from other elephant species, making it especially sought after. Of course, this is a double-edged sword, making them a prime target for poachers.

5. Late Bloomers

These elephants like to take their time growing up. Males don’t reach sexual maturity until their mid to late twenties, and females usually have their first calf in their late teens or early twenties. This slow rate of reproduction makes it challenging for their populations to bounce back from threats like poaching.

African Forest Elephant FAQs

Q: How is the African Forest Elephant different from the African Savannah Elephant?

A: African Forest Elephants are smaller in size, have rounder ears, longer, straighter tusks, and a downturned trunk compared to African Savannah Elephants. They also have genetic differences and inhabit different habitats.

Q: What is the current conservation status of the African Forest Elephant?

A: The African Forest Elephant is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. They face significant threats due to poaching for ivory and habitat loss.

Q: What role do African Forest Elephants play in their ecosystem?

A: African Forest Elephants are keystone species, meaning they play a crucial role in maintaining the biodiversity and structure of the forest. They help disperse seeds, create clearings, and facilitate nutrient cycling through their feeding and movement patterns.

Q: How do African Forest Elephants communicate with each other?

A: African Forest Elephants communicate through a variety of vocalizations, including rumbles, trumpets, and low-frequency calls. They can also use body language, such as ear movements and trunk gestures, to convey messages.

Q: What efforts are being made to protect African Forest Elephants?

A: Conservation organizations and governments are working to combat poaching, enforce stricter laws against ivory trade, establish protected areas, promote habitat conservation, and raise awareness about the importance of African Forest Elephants for ecosystem health.

Q: Are African Forest Elephants social animals?

A: Yes, African Forest Elephants have a social structure based on female-led family groups. These groups consist of related females and their offspring, while males tend to be more solitary.

Q: Where can African Forest Elephants be found in Africa?

A: African Forest Elephants primarily inhabit the equatorial rainforests of Central and West Africa, including countries like Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Cameroon, and Ivory Coast.

Q: How do African Forest Elephants contribute to seed dispersal and forest regeneration?

A: African Forest Elephants consume a variety of plant material and disperse seeds through their dung. These seeds can germinate and contribute to the regeneration of the forest, playing a vital role in maintaining ecosystem health.