Forest Elephants of Dzanga Bai

Dzanga Bai, Bayanga Region, Central African Republic.

A “Bai” is a clearing in the rainforest. Dzanga Bai is unique for its large population of Forest Elephants. Between 60 and 100 elephants visit the clearing each day. Much of what we know about the social structure of Forest Elephants comes from observations of interactions at the Dzanga forest clearing.

The Central African Republic is a land-locked country bordering Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo and Cameroon. It is the poorest country in Africa and one of the least developed. A coup d’état in 2012 has left the county in an entrenched and violent civil conflict.

Forest Elephants, a vanishing species

Forest Elephants are the least well known of the three species of elephants (Asian Elephant, Savannah elephantsForest Elephants).

Found in Central and West Africa, Forest Elephants now number fewer than 100,000, down from about one million when Europeans first ventured into Central Africa.

The Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) is morphologically distinct from the Savannah Elephant (Loxodonta africana) – smaller in size, smaller more rounded ears, and straighter, thinner, denser tusks.

Much Forest Elephant habitat lies within countries with a history of civil unrest and poverty, both of which increase the incentive for poaching.

Forest Elephants are difficult to census due to their dense habitat, and poaching activity is harder to detect for the same reason. The greatest challenge to Forest Elephants today is illegal killing to feed the ivory trade. As enforcement strengthens elsewhere in Africa, poachers will increasingly target Forest Elephant populations.