A forest elephant. Image courtesy of WCS.

Africa has two species of elephants, forest elephants and savanna elephants. Counting the number of elephants living in a given area is not as easy as you might think, even though elephants are big.

Counting savanna elephants can be done from airplanes. Aerial population surveys can cover wide areas of savanna habitat. Forest elephants live in dense forests though, and you cannot see them from a plane through the forest canopy.  

Biologists can now use genetics to count forest elephants: Scientists wanted to estimate the number of forest elephants in the African country Gabon. The scientists collected samples of fresh elephant poop from many regions of the country. They were able to pick up genetic signals of different elephants in the poop samples. They used those genetic signals to estimate how many elephants live in the forests.

In November 2021 they reported that there are about 95,000 forest elephants in Gabon. This is the largest known population of forest elephants in Africa. Protecting these elephants and their habitat is very important for conserving the forest elephant species.

Read more about this story on Mongabay.com:

DNA assessment confirms Gabon as last stronghold of forest elephants