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African Elephants (Loxodonta africana and L. cyclotis) Fact Sheet: Distribution & Habitat

Update in Progress

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This fact sheet, like an elephant, is aging gracefully. San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is working to bring you an updated version of the African Elephants Fact Sheet with new science and conservation information. Thanks for your patience, as our tusks go to the ground and dig into this huge project. Please check back soon. SDZWA team members can email questions to

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Ancient historic range

  • Throughout Africa, though absent from the Sahara
    • Regional changes in range are difficult to estimate given a lack of precise historical measures (Blanc 2007)
  • Range constriction
    • Eliminated from Northern Africa by the end of the middle ages
    • Began to disappear in Southern Africa in 1700s and 1800s

Current distribution

  • Savannah elephant (Loxodonta africana)
    • Areas of East, Central and Southern Africa
  • Forest elephant (L. cyclotis)
    • The Congo basin and West Africa
  • Reintroduced populations
    • Swaziland (Blanc 2008)
  • Regional extinctions
    • Burundi, Gambia, and Mauritania (Blanc 2008)
  % of Species Range (2007) % Protected Range (2002) % Protected Range (2007) % Decrease in Estimated Range (attributed to improved information)
Southern Africa 39 13 28 22
Central Africa 29 12 33 >50
Eastern Africa 26 24 30 10
Western Africa 5 40 56 21
Information on species range summarized from reports by Blanc 2003; Blanc 2007.


Habitat generalists

  • May survive in areas with sufficient food and water
    • May forage as far as 80 km from water
  • Ecologically the two sub-species occupy different environments with little overlap
    • Savanna (or bush) elephants
      • Occupy lowland and montane forests, flood plains, and all types of woodland and savanna
    • Forest elephants
      • Occupy moist semi-deciduous rainforests

Distribution Map

distribution map of African elephants
African elephants distribution.

Adapted from according to IUCN fact sheets: African savanna elephant, African forest elephant.

Page Citations

Blanc (2003)
Blanc (2007)
Blanc (2008)
Estes (1991)
Grubb & Groves (2000)
Shoshani (1992)
Shoshani & Tassy (1996)

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