In the line of fire
African elephants have had to bear the brunt of civil unrest in parts of Africa, with rebels going to the extent of using them for target practicing.
The two extant species of elephant, the African elephant and Asian elephant, are not related to each other directly. They belong to two different genera, genus Loxodonta (African elephants) and genus Elephas (Asian elephants). Of these, the species belonging to genus Loxodonta are only found on the continent of Africa.
Genus Loxodonta has two species to its credit, Loxodonta africana (African bush elephant or Savannah elephant) and Loxodonta cyclotis (African forest elephant). They derive their names from their native habitat. Initially considered subspecies, the two were reclassified when genetic science showed that they were different species.
The term African elephant though, is more often used to refer to the African bush elephant―the largest land mammal on the planet. All habitat spans the entire sub-Saharan Africa.
African elephants distribution map
African elephant has been traced to as many as 37 African nations. While the native range of the African bush elephant spans the grasslands of Botswana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique, Kenya, Namibia, Chad, Burkina Faso, Uganda, etc., that of the African forest elephant spans the tropical rainforests of the Congo Basin, primarily in Gabon, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana, Ivory Coast, etc.
According to the IUCN SSC African Elephant Specialist Group, over 56 percent of the African elephant population is traced to southern Africa, about 27 percent is found in eastern Africa, and 16 percent in central Africa.
If we go by countries, Botswana has the largest population of African elephants, which can be attributed to ideal conditions prevailing in this region, with the Chobe River serving as an important source of water during the dry season, and civil unrest in the neighboring countries, as a result of which the elephant population has taken refuge in the Chobe National Park.
The habitat of the African bush elephant ranges from the arid regions of western Niger to the Savanna grasslands of East Africa. These elephants are known to travel several miles a day in search of food, and hence, it isn't quite surprising to come across their herd in the fringe areas of the forest, or in the mountainous region for that matter.
The population of the African forest elephant is more or less restricted to the dense tropical and sub-tropical forests around the Congo Basin. Herbivorous in nature, these elephants feed on grass, shoots, roots, and barks, so there is no dearth of food for them in their native habitat.
African elephants live in large groups referred to as herds. They are very fond of water and spend most of the time near some water source in order to escape the scorching heat in this region. Though they are always on the move, the likelihood of these elephants settling in a particular region increases with the year-round availability of water.
African elephants have voracious feeding habit plays a crucial role in determining their range, as they are always on the lookout for food. On an average, an adult male can feed on approximately 300 lb of food in a single day. A visit to the Savannas, and you will find herds of elephants roaming around in the grasslands in search of food, or cooling themselves by lazing in the water bodies.