Range of African elephants. Courtesy Defenders of Wildlife.
African savannah elephants are found in savannah zones in 37 countries south of the Sahara Desert. African forest elephants inhabit the dense rain forests of west and central Africa. The continent‚Äôs northernmost elephants are found in Mali‚Äôs Sahel desert. The small, nomadic herd of Mali elephants migrates in a circular route through the desert in search of water.
The availability of food and water are the most important natural factors in determining the distribution of elephants. Often they migrate from a permanent water source at the start of the rainy season and return when the water holes begin to dry up at the beginning of the dry season. Consequently, home ranges have been measured as large as 3,120 square kilometers.
In the last 35 years, elephants have been extirpated from large swaths of central African savannah. Population trends assessed from aerial censuses of five of the most protected Central African savannah national parks (in Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Chad and Sudan) demonstrate elephant declines in excess of 85% over the past 35 years. The same is true for Africa’s rainforest.
Overexploitation of elephants for their ivory has been a major factor in the massive population declines over the past two hundred years.