In 2001 genetic analyses confirmed what researchers in Africa had long suspected: the forest elephant is a unique species, distinct from its larger cousin, the African savanna elephant.
That knowledge makes the current devastation of forest elephants--which live in the shrinking rainforests of Central and West Africa--all the more alarming. In just the last decade, two-thirds of all forest elephants have been wiped out. These animals are victims of growing human populations, the rapid proliferation of roads in African forests, and especially the burgeoning global trade in illegal ivory.
The only encouraging aspect of this story is growing awareness of the problem. China is finally acknowledging and beginning to address its huge role as a consumer of illegal ivory (see our blog below) and other governments are also taking action. For instance, the Obama administration just announced a series of anti-wildlife-crime measures, including a crackdown on illegal ivory.
For the beleaguered forest elephant, such actions are not coming a moment too soon...