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Which African elephant facts are key in conservation

BY: Tasneem Johnson-Dollie

Which African elephant facts are the most important when it comes to their conservation? Well, international organisations are digging deep to find out. 

There are different types of elephants in Africa, but in the past, conservationists tended to treat them all the same. But this has started to change as these African elephant subspecies are facing different types of threats.

African elephant numbers have dropped significantly over the last few years, prompting international organisations like the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to dig deeper to better understand the differences between the two African elephant subspecies. 

By following in the footsteps of the IUCN, conservationists can get to know these creatures better and contribute towards African elephant conservation in a more meaningful way. 

Here are some of the most important African elephant facts to know today. 

A field guide sitting on the edge of a safari vehicle on a dirt road, with a herd of elephant walking off into the distance.

African elephant facts

1) There are two subspecies of African elephant

One of the African elephant facts that’s growing in importance right now is that there are two different types of elephants on the continent. These are their common and scientific names:

  1. The African forest elephant – Loxodonta cyclotis

  2. The African savannah elephant – Loxodonta africana.

2) The differences between the African elephant subspecies

Because of the similarities in their appearance and behaviour, conservationists would often treat both types of African elephants the same – despite them being different subspecies. 

But there are many African elephant facts that prove that there are some significant differences between these two types of gentle giants. 

As their species names suggest, these creatures are found in quite different habitats. African savannah elephants live in open, grassy plains, while African forest elephants live in forests.

A Nama Karoo landscape.

But are there any other major differences between African forest elephants and African savannah elephants?

There sure are.

Here are some African elephant facts that illustrate some of the most important differences between African savannah elephants and African forest elephants:

  1. African savannah elephants are larger in size than African forest elephants.

  2. The tusks of African savannah elephants curve outwards while those of African forest elephants are straighter and point downwards.

  3. African forest elephants are darker in colour than savannah elephants.

  4. Due to where they live, savannah elephants eat mostly grasses while the forest elephant’s diet is made up of leaves and fruit. 

  5. Savannah elephants live in groups of up to ten individuals that are led by a female while African forest elephants live in groups of less than ten individuals.

  6. African forest elephants are found in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ghana and Liberia. 

  7. African savannah elephants live in Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. 

These African elephant facts show how the different types of elephants in Africa vary physically and behaviourally – and this can make a big difference when it comes to their conservation. 

3) Both subspecies of African elephant are endangered

The most recent IUCN update states that African savannah elephants are endangered and African forest elephants are critically endangered. 

The biggest obstacles threatening the well-being of these African elephants? Poaching and habitat degradation. 

Habitat degradation is the cause of African elephants being endangered.

Since each subspecies lives in different environments, we need to understand what habitat loss looks like for both African forest elephants and African savannah elephants. 

This will add to our ability to address the specific factors that contribute to habitat loss in the different types of elephant environments. It’ll also build on our knowledge of how poaching takes place in these different environments and how it can be addressed most effectively. 

This type of information will ultimately lead to a better understanding of the differences between these two subspecies, meaning that conservationists can form a greater understanding of the type of conservation efforts that will put these elephants in a better position. 

How to contribute to African elephant conservation

An elephant walking in the bush.

The world is at a turning point when it comes to African elephant conservation, and educating yourself on African elephant facts is one of the best ways to make a contribution.


Well, by enhancing your understanding of how African elephants live and the challenges they face, you can be part of the support system that’s growing African elephant conservation efforts worldwide.

The more you know more about African elephants, the more you can spread the word about their conservation status, add to the work being done by African elephant conservation organisations and make a positive impact right where African elephants live.

A field guide looking out over the terrain with binoculars.

Bushwise Field Guides offers courses in the African savannah where you could grow your African elephant knowledge while soaking up the African sun. 

And if you’re not keen to travel just yet, we also offer online courses where you’ll gain valuable knowledge about African elephants and the ecosystems they live in. 

Take a look at our Wildlife Research Expedition and see how you can learn African elephant facts first-hand while contributing to conservation efforts in the savannah.


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