Watch Critically Endangered Forest Elephants Take Mud Baths

How better to celebrate World Elephant Day?

forest elephants mud hole


Deep in the forest of Ntokou Pikounda National Park in the Republic of Congo, forest elephants churn the water of a mud hole then use their trunks to spray dirt all over their bodies. They wallow in the muddy water and baby elephants play.

The mud not only cools them down from the hot temperatures while it is in the high 80s and 90s, but it also protects their skin from insects and the hot sun.

The elephants' mud baths were captures by hidden camera traps by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and released for World Elephant Day to call attention to the plight of the critically endangered African forest elephant.

“It is indeed a treat to see African forest elephants in the wild. As their name suggests, this species lives deep in dense tropical rain forests, where you literally can walk past a forest elephant less than 10 feet away from you and not be aware of its presence," Allard Blom, managing director for the Congo Basin at World Wildlife Fund, tells Treehugger.

"Spotting forest elephants in the wild has become more and more rare because their populations have sadly plummeted over the past 30 years due to poaching for ivory and habitat loss.”

In March, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared Africa's elephants two distinct species. The African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) is now listed as critically endangered and the African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana) as endangered.

Specifically, the number of African forest elephants dropped by more than 86% over the 31-year assessment period, according to the IUCN report.

Forest elephants are rarely spotted because they live deep in the dense forest of west and central Africa, according to the WWF. They also live in locations where conflict and political unrest make it difficult to study them.

There are an estimated 1,100 forest elephants in the park, however, says Sam Nziengui-Kassa, WWF Conservation program manager in the Republic of Congo. But the park is very popular with poachers.

"Due to its rich biodiversity, Ntokou-Pikounda attracts poachers and cross-border networks of ivory traffickers," he writes in a recent blog. "I can’t even begin to tell you how sad I feel whenever I come across an elephant carcass without its long, straight, brownish tusks, a characteristic of this elephant species - a victim of poaching. Forest elephants are highly sought by poachers because their ivory is harder than that of the savannah elephant, and is preferred by carvers, as it can be carved into very fine detail."

Taking Steps to Protect Forest Elephants

In 2017, WWF signed a partnership agreement with the Congolese government to co-mange the park to protect its biodiversity, but particularly forest elephants.

There are increased patrols throughout the forest. In addition, local fishermen have agreed to regulated access to the park. That means poachers can no longer disguise themselves as fishermen in order to reach their targets.

The WWF says after three years, there are encouraging signs that poaching is happening less frequently than before.

To ease the human-elephant conflict, a new insurance plan across the Congo region has been put into place to compensate farmers if their fields have been destroyed by elephants. Instead of taking their frustration out on the animals, they are paid for their loss. Conservationists hope to extend this program into the park region soon.

View Article Sources
  1. WWF media release

  2. "African elephant species now Endangered and Critically Endangered - IUCN Red List." IUCN, 2021.

  3. Nziengui-Kassa, Sam. "Restoring an Iconic Species of the Congo Basin." World Wildlife Fund, 2021.