Based on genetic research and the latest status assessment of African elephants, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has formally split the species into forest and savanna elephants and designated them as critically endangered and endangered, respectively. Prior to this, all African elephants were classified by IUCN as a single species and were designated as vulnerable.
The status designations are the result of decades of population declines due to poaching for ivory and habitat loss. Forest elephant numbers have plummeted by more than 86 percent over the past 31 years, and these elephants currently occupy only one quarter of their historic range. Savanna elephant populations declined by at least 60 percent over the past 50 years, largely due to poaching for ivory. It is currently estimated that 415,000 African elephants (in total) remain, compared to approximately 1.3 million in the early 1970s.
Considering the immense ecological and economic importance of elephants, these new designations indicate that more must be done to protect elephant habitat and to end elephant poaching by shutting down the ivory trade.