It was always thought that there were two species of elephant in the world; the African savanna elephant,( Loxodonta africana) and the Asian elephant, (Elephas maximus). But now, through DNA testing, it has been discovered that there is a third species; the African forest elephant.
When a DNA identification system was set up to trace where poached ivory was coming from, scientists found that the African elephants consisted of two very different species. They expected slight variations in the genetic makeup of the savanna elephant, but were surprised to discover the two different species.
When you think of the African elephant you probably picture the savanna elephant. It is a huge animal, standing almost 12 feet tall at the shoulders. It has large ears that come to a point at the bottom. The tusks are long and slightly curved. They live on large, dry grasslands with a few thorny acacias dotting the plains.
The forest elephants look very different from savanna elephants. For one thing, they are smaller and stockier than savanna elephants. Forest elephant males only get to be about 8 feet in height while large savanna elephants can reach 13 feet. Their ears are rounded and their tusks are straight and thin with a pinkish tinge to the ivory. The lower jaw is longer, giving the forest elephant a long, narrow face. Forest elephants also live in smaller family groups. Forest elephants are also darker than savanna elephants.
Not much was known about the forest elephants because tracking them was very difficult. Scientists have begun tagging forest elephants with tracking devices so they can be more easily followed. It has recently been discovered that forest elephants can have a home range of about 2,000 square kilometers (1,243 square miles).