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Two African elephant species, not just one

Nature volume 538, page 371 (20 October 2016) | Download Citation

Your affirmation that the African forest elephant and the African savannah elephant are separate species (Nature 537, 7; 2016) is timely. Earlier this month, the 17th Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade In Endangered Species (CITES) rejected a proposal to list all African elephants as one species under CITES Appendix I. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is also reviewing a proposal to change the status of both species from threatened to endangered under the US Endangered Species Act (see

Data supporting the separate taxonomic status of African forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis Matschie) and African savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana Blumenbach) have been available for more than a decade. Their evolutionary divergence is comparable in magnitude to that between modern Asian elephants (Elephas) and the extinct mammoths (Mammuthus spp.). Hybridization between the two African species is rare and highly localized and does not affect the genetic integrity of either species (A. L. Roca et al. Nature Genet. 37, 96–100; 2004).

In the past decade, African forest elephant populations have fallen by about 60% (T. Breuer et al. Conserv. Biol. 30, 1019–1026; 2016). Recognition of the forest elephant and the much more numerous savannah elephant as separate species will help to protect their evolutionary diversity.

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    • Colin P. Groves

    *On behalf of 4 correspondents (see Supplementary information for full list).


  1. Australian National University, Canberra.

    • Colin P. Groves


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Correspondence to Colin P. Groves.

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