/ ©: naturepl.com / Jeff Vanuga / WWF


Once common throughout Africa and Asia, elephant numbers were severely depleted the 19th century, largely due to the massive ivory trade. While some populations are now stable, poaching and habitat destruction continue to threaten the species.
 / ©: WWF-International
© WWF-International

The largest terrestrial animal

Both African elephants and Asian elephants need a lot of food and freedom to survive. They wander in small to large herds over sometimes incredibly large areas, while consuming up to several hundred kilograms of plant matter in a single day.

Elephants, in fact, place such great demands on their own environment that they frequently come into conflict with people who are competing for many of the same, often scarce, resources.

Physical description

Elephants are identified by their massive bodies and their trunk, which is used to pick a variety of objects, including food. Living members of the order Proboscidea have a maximum height of nearly 4m and a weight of up to 7,500kg. The head is large in relation to the rest of the body, and African elephants are noted for their very large ears. Hair is sparse.

The Asian elephant has four hooves (occasionally five) on the hind foot and five on the forefoot, while the African elephant has three on the hind foot and five on the forefoot.

Threats to elephants

Poaching still a problem
Although poaching of elephants for their ivory has declined since the 1989 worldwide ivory ban, it remains a widespread problem. Large quantities of African ivory, for example, are still finding their way to illegal markets in Africa and beyond. Elephants are also killed for their meat and hides.

Habitat loss also a concern

A more long-term threat is the reduction of habitat available to elephants in the face of expanding human populations. Habitat loss isolates many wild elephant populations, with ancient migratory routes cut off by human settlements.

Habitat loss and degradation also increases confrontations between elephants and people, often leading to deaths on both sides.

Cameroon elephant slaughter

Cameroon elehant slaughter

Between January and March of this year, heavily-armed foreign poachers invaded Cameroon and killed over 300 elephants in Bouba N’Djida National Park.

Since the incident, which drew worldwide media attention, Cameroon has moved to bolster security in its protected areas, including deploying 60 new ecoguards to secure Bouba N’Djida and monitor the park’s remaining wildlife. Two rangers recently received gunshot wounds while pursuing a potential poacher adjacent to the park.

Read: Cameroon increases elephant protection after mass slaughter
 / ©: WWF Indonesia / Syamsuardi
The baby elephant was named Imbo, which is derived from the word ‘rimbo’ meaning 'forest' in the traditional Malayan language spoken by the people of central Sumatra.
© WWF Indonesia / Syamsuardi

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What is WWF doing? 

On the ground on two continents
The problems facing elephants in Asia and Africa are varied and complex. WWF works to conserve elephants on both continents through specific programmes aiming to improve elephant protection and management, build capacity within range states, mitigate human-elephant conflict and reduce illegal trade.
 / ©: WWF / A. Christy WILLIAMS
WWF personnel fit radio collars to elephants as part of the research effort to understand the Borneo pigmy elephant and conserve its future
© WWF / A. Christy WILLIAMS

How you can help

  • Don't buy ivory products. Illegal trade in elephant ivory is a continuing problem, posing one of the greatest threats to elephants today.
  • Use and support sustainable palm oil. By purchasing certified sutainable palm oil, retailers, traders, and manufacturers can help limit the conversion of Asian elephant habitat into oil palm plantations. Consumers can also help by demanding that products contain only sustainable palm oil.
  • Buy a gift of chilies, dung and engine oil! Help reduce human-elephant conflict in Africa through this unique purchase.
  • Adopt an elephant: WWF-US & International | WWF-UK
  • Donate to WWF to help support our elephant conservation work.
  • Spread the word! Click on the button to share this information with others via email or your favourite social networking service.

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Did you know?

    • The elephant has the longest gestation period of any mammal at 22 months.
    • Healthy adult elephants have no natural predators.


  •  The WWF Wildlife Crime Scorecard report selects 23 range, transit and consumer countries from Asia and Africa facing the highest levels of illegal trade in elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts.

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