Africa, Elephants | African elephants have become endangered

The African elephant has now been red-listed as an endangered species. A subspecies of the elephant is just one step away from being extinct.

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has updated its red list of endangered species with the African elephant.

The situation has worsened in most of Africa, warns the IUCN. In the past, the elephant on the African continent has been considered a single animal species, and it has been considered vulnerable but not endangered.

The IUCN’s updated list now divides the elephant into two subspecies – the African forest elephant and the African savannah elephant.

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The forest elephant is particularly hard hit. The number has been reduced by more than 86 percent in the last three decades. The forest elephant is now seen as critically endangered, one step away from the extinction.

The population of the savannah elephant has decreased by at least 60 percent in the last 50 years and is now red-listed as endangered.

Big decline

The new red list assessment of both elephant species underlines the persistent pressure that these iconic animals face, says IUCN leader Bruno Oberle.

Less than 50 years ago, there were around 1.5 million elephants in Africa. The last large-scale assessment is from 2016 and then estimated the population to be around 415,000.

– This is really a sharp decline, says Benson Okita-Ouma in Save the Elephants. He also sits on the board of the IUCN’s special group for African elephants.

The next full assessment of the extent of the African elephant population is not expected until next year or in 2023. But the decline that has already been registered should make the alarm bells ring, Okita-Ouma believes.

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The elephants will not disappear from Africa overnight, he points out, but emphasizes that the assessment that has been made now is a warning that the animals will probably disappear if no measures are taken.

“This is a wake-up call for the whole world that we are on our way down a steep slope when it comes to the viability of these elephants,” he says.

Different genes

Experts agree that it is better to look at the African elephant as two separate species after new research on the genetic traits.

The forest elephant is located in rainforest areas in the central part of Africa and various parts west of the continent. It is assumed that they are today in an area that makes up a quarter of the area they have historically been located on.

The largest remaining populations of forest elephants are in Gabon and Congo.

The savannah elephant lives in open landscapes and is found in various habitats in sub-Saharan Africa.

Poaching and agriculture

Both elephant populations have declined sharply since 2008, as poaching in search of ivory has exploded. The problem peaked in 2011 but continues to pose a threat to elephant populations, according to the IUCN.

This is a development that National Geographic also refers to.

Okita-Ouma believes it is just as bad that the ever-increasing destruction of the elephants’ habitats is shrinking, as people use an increasing proportion of land for agriculture and other purposes.

– If we do not plan our use of land properly, even though we never so much stop poaching and illegal killings of these animals, the animals will still be indirectly killed as a result of poor planning of land use, he says.

WWF World Welfare Fund Secretary General Karoline Andaur believes the world community must be on the field.

– To save the elephants, we need greater efforts from both national authorities and the international community to strengthen the work of rebuilding and stabilizing the populations. Illegal trade in wild animals and animal parts must be stopped. Other threats, such as climate change and the destruction of nature and habitats, must be addressed immediately, she says.

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Positive traits

WWF refers to how the organization, in collaboration with local authorities in Namibia, has created protected areas run by the local population.

“Local communities and indigenous peoples play a crucial role in taking care of the world’s wild animals and for people to be able to live in harmony with nature,” says Andaur.

The IUCN also emphasizes the positive importance of measures to preserve elephants.

In some rainforest areas in well-controlled conservation areas in Gabon and Congo, the forest elephant population has stabilized.

In Kavongo-Zambezi, an area that stretches across the borders of five countries in southern Africa, the savannah elephant population has either stabilized or experienced growth in recent decades.

– Several African countries have shown in recent years that we can reverse the decline in the elephant population. We must work together to ensure that their examples can be followed by others, says Oberle.


Revenues from the tourism industry have been important in financing measures to take care of the elephants, but the industry has been affected by the corona pandemic, Okita-Ouma points out.

At the same time, the decline in human activity has in many places made it possible for elephants to regain areas they were previously driven away from.

– During the corona closures, we have seen animals move everywhere, and it is a positive development for them, he says.

(© NTB)


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