August 12 is World Elephant Day – a day to celebrate one of the world’s most beloved animals and draw attention to the challenges they face. There are two extremely important facts about elephants that you won’t find in our story below: Populations have declined by 62% over the past decade, with 24,000 African elephants poached last year.
We have written about the importance of elephant conservation for years, from the story of how an elephant inspired GGT in 2000 to our fundraiser for Thailand’s Elephant Natural Park in 2014.
1) There are many types of elephants in Africa and Asia, with three distinct species and at least three subspecies. The African bush elephant (aka African savannah elephant) is the largest of all: it is actually the largest living terrestrial animal on the planet.
It is also the largest elephant species, although it is increasingly vulnerable to extinction due to habitat loss and poaching. As the name suggests, most of these animals are found in the bush or savannah, but some have adapted to life in the Namib and Sahara deserts. These desert elephants are not considered a distinct species.
2) The African forest elephant was once considered a subspecies of the African bush elephant, but has since been reclassified as a distinct species that was separated 2 to 7 million years ago. It is smaller, has more rounded ears and a hairier trunk than its cousins, with a declining population of about 100,000 individuals.
As the name suggests, this type of elephant prefers dense forest habitats, most of which are in Gabon. They feed mainly on fruit (the leaves and bark that make up the rest of their diet) and live in smaller, more isolated groups of 2 to 8 family members.
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