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Africa Forest elephants face growing risk of extinction

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AMAURY HAUCHARD/AFP or licensors

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It's Africa's lesser known elephant. Hidden deep in the jungle, the Forest elephants remain no less in danger.

In their latest updated "Red List", which regroupes all at risk species, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature labled them as 'critically endangered'.

Previously, elephants on the continent were assessed as a single species considered vulnerable, but not endangered.

"Today's new IUCN Red List assessments of both African elephant species underline the persistent pressures faced by these iconic animals," IUCN chief Bruno Oberle said in a statement.

Benson Okita, IUCN"s African Elephant Commissioner. explains it's much harder to police the areas where forest elephants live.

"It is more vulnerable to poaching because of the kind of area where it inhabits and these areas are thick areas, they are areas that you find armed militia groups hiding. They are areas that anti-poaching units can find really difficult also to go in and monitor and enforce law".

The elephants habitat is also threatened. "It becomes very challenging for these animals and those areas also you find logging going on in terms of habitat loss, and some of this goes undetected because of the nature of that kind of habitat."

Forest elephants more at risk

Conservationists say the Forest elephants face a greater risk of extinction than the larger savannah elephants found in East Africa. But all over the continent, the numbers have been dropping.

"When you think of the 1960s and 1970s, we were talking of over 1.5 million e lephants across the region, across Africa at that time. But since then, we have seen those declines that we are talking of, numbers now of 415,000" explains Benson Okita-Ouma, co-chair of the African Elephant Specialist Group at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

In the last 30 years, the number of Forest Elephants has fallen by over 85 percent, just a step away from becoming extinct.

That compares with the endangered savannah elephant whose populations have declined 60 percent over 50 years.

Decades of poaching and shrinking habitats have devastated elephant populations all over the continent. While the next full assessment of African elephant population numbers is not expected until 2022 or 2023, he told AFP that the declines seen already should really sound "alarm bells".

Elephants will not disappear from Africa overnight, he said, but stressed that "what this assessment is giving us is an early warning that unless we turn around things, we are likely to (see) these animals go extinct".

"It is a wake-up call to the entire globe that we are going down a steep terrain, when it comes to... the viability of these elephants."

Experts had agreed it was better to treat African forest and savanna elephants as separate species following fresh research into the genetics of the elephant populations, IUCN said.