Forest Elephants

African forest elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis); Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, Central African Republic
© Martin Harvey / WWF

Forest elephants are an elusive subspecies of African elephants and inhabit the densely wooded rainforests of west and central Africa. Their preference for dense forest habitat prohibits traditional counting methods such as visual identification. Their population is usually estimated through "dung counts"—an analysis on the ground of the density and distribution of the feces.

Forest elephants are smaller than savanna elephants, the other African elephant subspecies. Their ears are more oval-shaped ears and their tusks are straighter and point downward (the tusks of savanna elephants curve outwards). There are also differences in the size and shape of the skull and skeleton. Forest elephants are found most commonly in countries with relatively large blocks of dense forest such as Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Cameroon and Central African Republic in central Africa and Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Ghana in west Africa.

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    8-10 feet


    2-5 tons


    dense tropical forests


Illegal Wildlife Trade: forest elephants are primarily threatened by poaching for bushmeat and ivory. Tens of thousands of elephants are killed each year to meet the illegal international demand for ivory.

Habitat loss and fragmentation: African elephants have less room to roam than ever before as expanding human populations convert land for agriculture, settlements and developments. The elephants’ range shrank from three million square miles in 1979 to just over one million square miles in 2007.

Human-Elephant conflict: forest elephants are not only being squeezed into smaller and smaller areas, but farmers plant crops that elephants like to eat. As a result, elephants frequently raid and destroy crops. They can be very dangerous too. While many people in the West regard elephants with affection and admiration, the animals often inspire fear and anger in those who share their land.

Forest elephants

© Alexandre Brecher/WWF-Carpo © WWF / Carlos Drews © wwf © WWF / Carlos Drews © / James Aldred / WWF © WWF / Carlos Drews © WWF / Bas Huijbregts

Did you know?

Forest elephants are found in dense forests and are essential for the germination of many rain forest trees. The seeds of these trees only germinate after passing through the elephant’s digestive tract.

What WWF is doing


In the Congo Basin, WWF strives to eliminate illegal hunting in protected areas and end the hunting of forest elephants. WWF advocates for sustainable hunting of less vulnerable species in buffer zones and community hunting reserves which contributes to the survival of wildlife outside of protected areas. This also provides affordable meat to a poor and growing human population.

WWF brought together neighboring countries in the Congo Basin to join forces to protect wildlife from poaching.

The Sangha Tri-national Anti-poaching Brigade of Gabon, Congo and Central African Republic, is an example of WWF’s regional approach to tackle illegal elephant poaching. These “wildlife soldiers” move freely within the area and pursue poachers across borders as a result of this international cooperation. We have also established Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) methodologies in several protected area sites.



WWF and TRAFFIC, the world’s largest wildlife trade monitoring network, support a Central African Forest Commission commitment to put a groundbreaking regional network called PAPECALF into place that will strengthen law enforcement and better combat poaching of species at risk from illegal wildlife trade.

The plan calls for increased antipoaching efforts, joint patrols in some transboundary areas, better customs controls at international transit points, more intense investigations, and more thorough prosecutions. Cases will also be monitored for corruption, and action taken against anyone attempting to impede justice.

Since 1989, TRAFFIC has managed the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) database, which is a comprehensive information system to track illegal trade in ivory and other elephant products. Our work assessing ivory markets in West Africa and identifying illegal ivory trade routes from Central to West Africa and into Asia has played an important role in putting together effective conservation strategies.



WWF helps to create employment opportunities in industries such as tourism and protected areas management. We promote alternatives like community-based fisheries to reduce poverty and give people a readily available source of protein. This decreases dependence on bushmeat as a source of food and income. In addition, WWF works with local railways, trucking firms and airlines to discourage the commercial bushmeat trade.