Jan 25

Immediate action on habitat loss is needed to secure the future of the Sumatran elephant, according to WWF.

Photo of Sumatran elephant bathing and spraying water with trunk

Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus) bathing

A subspecies of the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), the Sumatran elephant has been uplisted by the IUCN Red List from Endangered to Critically Endangered after losing nearly 70% of its habitat and half its population in the last 25 years.

This dramatic decline is largely due to widespread deforestation on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, with much of the elephant’s natural habitat being converted for agriculture, oil palm production and timber plantations.

Rapid deforestation rate

Three subspecies of Asian elephant are generally recognised: the Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus) on Sumatra, the Sri Lankan elephant (E. m. maximus) in Sri Lanka, and the Indian elephant (E. m. indicus) on the Asian mainland.

Photo of Asian elephants in deep jungle

Asian elephants in forest habitat

Although Sumatra holds some of the most significant populations of Asian elephants outside of India and Sri Lanka, it has experienced some of the most rapid deforestation rates within the species’ range. As a result of increasing human encroachment, many elephant populations have come into conflict with humans, and Asian elephants are also illegally targeted for their ivory.

Only an estimated 2,400 to 2,800 Sumatran elephants now remain in the wild, and the species has been lost from many parts of the island. Confined to the remaining forest patches, many herds are now too small and isolated to remain viable in the long term.

If current trends continue, it is feared that the Sumatran elephant could become extinct within the next 30 years.

Photo of Sri Lankan elephant herd in shallow water

Herd of Sri Lankan elephants (Elephas maximus maximus), another Asian elephant subspecies

Urgent action needed

The Sumatran elephant joins a growing list of Indonesian species that are Critically Endangered, including the Sumatran orangutan, the Javan and Sumatran rhinos and the Sumatran tiger,” said Dr Carlos Drews, Director of WWF’s Global Species Programme.

Unless urgent and effective conservation action is taken these magnificent animals are likely to go extinct within our lifetime.”

WWF is calling on the Indonesian government to ban all forest conversion in elephant habitat until a conservation strategy can be put in place to conserve the species. It also recommends that large patches of habitat should be designated as protected areas, and that smaller areas should be linked with habitat corridors.

Photo of Indian elephant calf

Indian elephant (Elephas maximus indicus) calf

According to Asian elephant expert Ajay Desai, “It’s very important that the Government of Indonesia, conservation organisations and agro-forestry companies recognise the critical status of elephant and other wildlife in Sumatra and take effective steps to conserve them.

Indonesia must act now before it’s too late to protect Sumatra’s last remaining natural forests, especially elephant habitats.”

Read more on this story at WWF – Habitat loss drives Sumatran elephants step closer to extinction.

View photos and videos of Asian elephants on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

Jan 5

Like rabbits retreating into their burrows, heads began disappearing underneath desks in the ARKive office as I made a beeline for the next ARKive team mate to pick their favourite species. Will this week’s favourite species be another ferocious feline like it was for Rebecca Sennett, or something slightly more serpentine?

Laura Sutherland – ARKive Education Officer

Favourite Species: African elephant

Why? While I was at University I spent a summer volunteering on a conservation project based in Botswana. Much of our time was spent monitoring the local elephant population, which is where I developed a soft spot for this enormous mammal. Their social structure is based around the ties within family groups; each group is led by an old female known as the ‘matriarch’. They have an amazing capacity to communicate over vast distances using infrasound and are able to recognise other individuals from their vocalisations.

Favourite elephant image on ARKive:

Photo of an African elephant

African elephant calf flapping ears

The African elephant is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List, with threats such as hunting for their ivory tusks, which are actually modified incisors, and conflict with farmers due to habitat fragmentation, posing considerable risks to their continued survival.

See more pictures and videos of the African elephant.

Jul 1

African elephant populations on the savannas of West and Central Africa have halved over the last 40 years, according to a study published in PloS One.

Photo of African elephants walking in line

African elephants walking in line

Researchers collected data from aerial and ground surveys conducted over the last four decades, to study trends in the African elephant populations within protected areas. 

In total, the researchers estimated an elephant population of 7,750 individuals across the Sudano-Sahelian zone – an area of savanna that stretches across the African continent just below the Sahara desert. The authors of the study said this represents a minimum decline of 50% in just 40 years.

Photo of African elephant bull feeding in swamp

African elephant bull feeding in swamp

Half of populations unsustainable 

Perhaps most alarmingly, half of the 23 African elephant populations studied were estimated to number fewer than 200 individuals – populations this small tend to go extinct within a few decades. The populations were also extremely fragmented. Meanwhile, elephant populations outside of protected areas, which were not covered in this study, are expected to fare even worse. 

The worrying trend in West and Central African elephants sits in stark contrast to African elephant populations in southern regions, where many populations are increasing thanks to conservation efforts. 

The study states that, “differences in the status of Africa’s elephants, with populations of least concern in southern Africa and threatened populations in the rest of the continent, perpetuate the disagreement regarding ivory trade and debates about ivory trade bans at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).” 

Photo of African elephant calf walking

African elephant calf walking

Civil conflicts and poaching for the illegal trade in ivory were identified by the researchers as key contributors to the decline of African elephants. However, the greatest threat is thought to be declining rainfall and increasing competition with livestock for land and water resources. 

African elephants in the region are responsible for creating open habitats through grazing and trampling and also distribute seeds in their faeces, meaning the loss of elephants would impact numerous other species.

Photo of African elephant herd walking in line

African elephant herd walking in line

Protective corridors 

To preserve the remaining African elephants, the researchers propose that eight new protective habitat corridors be established as soon as possible, to connect the main elephant populations. 

They also recommend that conservation organisations work with private sector wildlife initiatives and channel more wildlife revenues to local communities as a way of securing the future for elephants on Africa’s northern savannas. 

View more images and videos of the African elephant on ARKive. 

Find out more about African elephant conservation at Save the Elephants. 

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

Mar 9

Elephants are able to understand when a task requires teamwork and can cooperate to retrieve a reward, according to a new study.

Photo of Asian elephant

The Asian elephant is under threat from hunting and habitat loss, and is listed as Endangered by the IUCN.

Elephant-sized experiment

Although elephants are widely assumed to be highly intelligent, the dangers and difficulties involved in testing such a large animal mean that experimental evidence is often lacking.

Close-up photo of Asian elephant

Elephants live in stable family groups and have often been seen helping calves or other family members in the wild.

The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used a jumbo-sized version of apparatus usually used to test monkeys and apes. The experiment required two Asian elephants to pull together on ropes to bring a table of food within reach.

The elephants quickly learned to cooperate to get their reward, and would even wait for their partner before trying to pull on the rope, showing that they understood the need to work together.

Photo of African elephants at waterhole

African elephants are larger than their Asian cousins and are also highly intelligent. Elephants have long memories and may even mourn their dead.

One elephant even came up with an alternative strategy, putting her foot on the rope and waiting for her partner to do all the work of pulling on the other.

Highly intelligent species

These findings show that elephants are as capable of cooperation as apes, putting them in an “elite group” of intelligent and socially complex animals which includes chimpanzees, dolphins and some birds.

Photo of a juvenile chimpanzee

Other species shown to understand cooperation include apes such as chimpanzees.

Watch a video of the elephant experiment in the BBC report.

View stunning photos and videos of the Asian elephant on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author


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