Forest Elephants


Forest elephants, Loxodonta cyclotis, differ in several ways from the savannah elephants. Smaller in stature, forest elephant females average 2 meters in height and males 2.4 meters. Savannah elephants are at least 50 centimeters taller than the forest species for the two sexes. Forest elephant ivory is harder and differs in color from savannah ivory, making it the preferred material by artisans. Forest ivory is known as hot or pink ivory.

Socially forest elephants organize themselves into family groups consisting of adult females and their offspring. Groups observed in the clearing range from two to ten. The leader of these bigger groups is the matriarch, the oldest and most experienced female of the group. She leads the group and passes her knowledge on to younger family members. Adult males lead a solitary existence but younger adult bulls have been observed vocally greeting family members. Young males may leave the family group as early as the age of five but will periodically meet up with their family groups. Female offspring stay with their family for their entire lives.

When elephants groups are separated they are able to communicate over several kilometers by vocalizing. These calls are recognizable by related family members and contain low inaudible frequencies which can travel several kilometers through the forest. These calls help elephants to locate each other in the forest and coordinate their movements.

There are two breeding seasons at Dzanga occurring during drier parts of the year: December- March, and July-August. Males in breeding condition are said to be in musth, or rut. Occuring in the biggest bulls, the physical features of musth are secretion from the temporal glands located on the sides of the head which appears as dark stains and a constant dribbling of urine which wets the rear legs. During musth bulls spend most of their time searching for estrous females, which they locate by odor and from listening. Receptive females vocalize to advertise their condition with an “estrous song” which is a powerful call which can travel several kilometers through the forest. Male elephants who are much less vocal than females will “musth rumble” while in breeding condition, a characteristic low rumble which is barely detectable.

Once a male finds a receptive female he will guard her for several days from other males and the couple will copulate several times. The male will then leave her in search of other estrous females. Gestation is twenty-two months with a single calf being born. Twins are known in savannah elephants but have never been observed at Dzanga.

Elephants of different colors are observed at Dzanga and this is a result of mudbathing in different color clays found in the forest and in the bai. Elephant skin is naturally gray but elephants mud bathe to protect themselves against parasites and perhaps because it feels good. Entire elephant families are seen mud bathing on the edges of the clearing in its yellow clay.