African Elephants

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African Elephants Paying the Price for Ivory

Time is running out for the African elephant, the largest remaining land mammal on the planet, as it faces the greatest crisis in decades.   Increasing poaching levels as well as loss of habitat are threatening the survival of this iconic species. Conservationists estimate that about 472,000 to 690,000 African elephants likely inhabit the continent today, a staggering fall from possibly five million in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  It is estimated that 30,000 to 38,000 elephants are poached annually for their ivory.  The price of ivory has almost tripled over the last four years and the price surge has spurred a wave of elephant killings across Africa.  Unless we find a way to put an end to these gruesome killings, the African elephant is lumbering towards extinction.

Did this little elephant have a change of heart?

How Nikela Helps

Elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade are a major concern across Africa.  Nikela helps protect the African elephant in these ways:

1) On the ground: Supporting anti-poaching teams like Peter Milton, SPOTS and Lynn Clifford, WAG.

2) Awareness campaigns: Sharing information across the social networks to increase global awareness and invite anyone anywhere who cares to get involved.

African Elephant paying the price for ivory - Anneth Moran

Infographic by Nikela Volunteer Anneth Moran

Facts about the African elephant

[More images and videos below]


Elephants are the only surviving members of the mighty proboscidean family that included mammoths and mastodons.  There are two subspecies of African elephant, the African Savannah elephant and the African forest elephant.  It is estimated that probably one quarter to one third of the total African elephant population is made up of forest elephants.


African elephants live in a wide variety of habitats, from tropical swamp forests to deserts.  Savannah elephants are found predominantly in Eastern and Southern Africa while forest elephants live primarily in the Congo Basin of Central Africa.


African elephants are the largest land animals on Earth sometimes weighing more than five tons.   An elephant’s trunk, its most distinctive and unique feature, is actually a nose used for smelling, breathing, trumpeting, drinking, and also for grabbing things.  The trunk alone contains about 100,000 different muscles. African elephants have two fingerlike features on the end of their trunk that they can use to grab small items.   An elephant’s large ears are used for communication and when spread out are a sign of aggression.  Constant flapping of the ears helps an elephant lose heat.  Both male and female African elephants have tusks they use to dig for food and water and strip bark from trees.  Males also use the tusks to battle one another.


Elephants eat roots, grasses, fruit, and bark, and they can eat for up to 16 hours a day.  An adult elephant can consume up to 500 pounds of vegetation in a single day.

Elephants do not sleep much, and they roam over great distances while foraging for the large quantities of food that they require to sustain their massive bodies.

Behavior and social groups

Male and female elephants have different social behavior.  Female elephants (cows) live in family herds with their young, but adult males (bulls) tend to roam on their own or form small groups of 2-3 bulls.  Elephant herds are led by an elderly matriarch.

Conservation status and threats

The African elephant is on the IUCN’s Red List and is classified as Vulnerable. African elephants currently live in 37 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.  It is extinct in Burundi, Gambia, and Mauritania.

The African elephant continues to decline largely due to conflict with the ever expanding human population and illegal poaching to meet the growing demand for ivory.  Elephants need huge areas of land to live and roam freely.  This puts them in direct competition with humans for food, water, and land resources.  Where farms border elephant habitat or cross elephant migration corridors, damage to crops and villages can become commonplace. This often leads to conflicts with humans that elephants invariably lose.  Commercial logging and mining have also resulted in a loss of habitat for the African elephant.  About 70% of the elephants range lies outside of protected areas, where they often come into conflict with humans.

Despite a global CITES ban on international sales of ivory since 1990, tens of thousands of elephants are killed to meet a growing demand for ivory products.  Illegal ivory trade activity and the weight of the ivory behind this trade has more than doubled since 2007 and is over three times more than in 1998.

Contributed by Nikela Volunteer Diptee Borkar

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 Videos about Elephants

Once and for all, do elephants drink through their trunks?

Watch what this baby elephant does when it starts to rain.
Did the herd reject this baby elephant and its mother?
Who are the tough guys at this waterhole?African Elephant herd calves - Lilian EdwardsAfrican Elephants - MargritAfrican Elephant - Margrit

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