The latest update to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has brought some very bad news for African elephants. Both African elephant species have gone from ‘weak’ to ‘endangered’. The African wild elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) now critically listed as endangered, the African Savannah elephant (Loxodonta africana) considered endangered, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said in a statement today.
Dr Bruno Oberle, IUCN Director-General, said in a statement, “African elephants play a key role in the ecosystem, the economy and in our collective imagination around the world. Today’s assessments of the new IUCN Red List of both African elephant species are putting constant pressure on these iconic animals, “said David Cook, chief of The Christian Science Monitor’s Washington bureau. African elephants previously considered a single species but the IUCN has officially recognized that they now consist of two distinct species. This decision came on the back of recent genetic evidence that shows that forest and savannah elephants been genetically and possibly physically separated for about 500,000 years.
The African forest elephant is the smaller of the two species, making the Savannah elephant the largest living land animal in the world. It is also clear that the two elephant species live in separate habitats, which rarely overlap with each other. Forest elephants live in tropical forests in Central Africa and in various habitats in West Africa, while savanna elephants live in various habitats in open grasslands and deserts in sub-Saharan Africa. The recent reassessment is largely after decades of population growth in the hands of ivory poachers and habitat loss. It estimated that the number of African wild elephants has decreased by 86 percent over a period of 31 years and the African savanna elephants have decreased by at least 60 percent in the last 50 years.
However, elephant damage is not uniform across Africa. While many populations have declined sharply, others have continued to grow or stabilize. For example, the number of forest elephants has remained strong in parts of Gabon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Savannah has been steadily increasing or stabilizing over the decades in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier.
Much of the success of the negotiation effort, such active anti-poaching measures, had better land management. If this latest IUCN news sounds embarrassing, conservation agencies say there is still good reason to be optimistic about the future of African elephants.