It had not been discovered until a six-month long study released by Fauna & Flora International this past month.
Captured on cameras attached to various trees, in a 3000 mile expanse of the Central Africa forest, these tree cams (“remote sensing cameras aka ‘camera traps’”) have brought a beautiful vision into focus. That of the diminutive African forest elephant. (“…Images of a family of up to eight forest elephants lumbering through the forest, standing in the rain and eyeballing the camera.” )
Unlike their mighty “plains dwelling cousin” (those males average 13 feet) who roam the African savannahs the forest elephant (males) reaches only 8 feet in height. They exhibit the “tell-tale forest-type characteristics: smaller size, tusks pointing straight down, rounded ears, and a uniquely shaped head.”
But their size was just what nature intended. Given that these elephants inhabit the Central African forests, their height drives their ability to maneuver under the trees that serve as the canopy of their jungle. It would be an idyllic situation were it not for the fact that the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) is on the “critically endangered” list and we may not see them on this planet ever again.
What astonished researchers was that the area, (in Western Equatoria, a state in South Sudan) where the photographs captured the family of forest elephants, was outside the “known range of the animals”.
This is a gem of a discovery considering the scientific publication PLOS ONE has shown (in 2013) that, between 2002 and 2011, 30 percent of the forest elephant’s range was lost (“often to palm plantations for biofuel production” ) in West and Central Africa and their populations have been decimated by over 60 percent.
There is also the “illegal logging” in Western Equatoria that is “happening right now” and it is “pretty much unchecked” said DeeAnn Reeder ( one of the leaders of this new study as well as a Professor of Biology at Bucknell Univ. in Pennsylvania) who emphasizes it is this loss of their natural habitat, that is the biggest threat in Western Equatoria.
But it is the threats to their well being and survival that still outnumber the efforts to save these beloved elephants; what with the poaching and the civil unrest in South Soudan, (our forest elephants are killed for their “meat” as well as their ivory), reports the AP in The Daily Mail Online. (And as “Paul Elkan of the Wildlife Conservation Society told the Associated Press:” of the elephants that “were fitted with radio tracking collars in South Sudan before the war, over 50 percent have been poached since the fighting broke out two years ago”.)
Now back to the good news. With this first scientific discovery of wild forest elephants in South Sudan, (“by far the most northerly herd of forest elephants that anyone has seen in Africa, Adrian Garside , co-leader of the study by Fauna & Flora International, told the Associated Press”) although “critically endangered,” these elephants are holding on the best they can. This is a glimmer of hope for our forest elephants; though not by any means would we think we are out of the woods yet.
See all of the amazing photographs of forest elephants captured by the tree cams at The Daily Mail