Following population declines over several decades due to poaching for ivory and loss of habitat, the African forest elephant is now listed as Critically Endangered and the African savanna elephant as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. Before today’s update, African elephants were treated as a single species, listed as Vulnerable; this is the first time the two species have been assessed separately for the IUCN Red List, following the emergence of new genetic evidence.

The IUCN Red List now includes 134,425 species of which 37,480 are threatened with extinction.

“Africa’s elephants play key roles in ecosystems, economies and in our collective imagination all over the world. Today’s new IUCN Red List assessments of both African elephant species underline the persistent pressures faced by these iconic animals,” said Dr Bruno Oberle, IUCN Director General. “We must urgently put an end to poaching and ensure that sufficient suitable habitat for both forest and savanna elephants is conserved. Several African countries have led the way in recent years, proving that we can reverse elephant declines, and we must work together to ensure their example can be followed.”

The latest assessments highlight a broadscale decline in African elephant numbers across the continent. The number of African forest elephants fell by more than 86% over a period of 31 years, while the population of African savanna elephants decreased by at least 60% over the last 50 years, according to the assessments.

Both species suffered sharp declines since 2008 due to a significant increase in poaching, which peaked in 2011 but continues to threaten populations. The ongoing conversion of their habitats, primarily to agricultural and other land uses, is another significant threat. The 2016 IUCN African Elephant Status Report provides the most recent reliable estimate of the continental population of the two species combined, at around 415,000 elephants. 

Despite the overall declining trend of both African elephant species, the assessments also highlight the impact of successful conservation efforts. Anti-poaching measures on the ground, together with more supportive legislation and land use planning which seeks to foster human-wildlife coexistence, have been key to successful elephant conservation. As a result, some forest elephants have stabilised in well-managed conservation areas in Gabon and the Republic of the Congo. Savanna elephant numbers have also been stable or growing for decades especially in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, which harbours the largest subpopulation of this species on the continent.

“While the results of the assessment place the continental population of savanna elephants in the Endangered category, it is important to keep in mind that at a site level, some subpopulations are thriving. For this reason, considerable caution and local knowledge are required when translating these results into policy,” said Dr Dave Balfour, assessor of the African elephants and member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) African Elephant Specialist Group.

The decision to treat African forest and savanna elephants as separate species is the result of the consensus that has emerged among experts following new research into the genetics of elephant populations. Forest elephants occur in the tropical forests of Central Africa and in a range of habitats in West Africa. They rarely overlap with the range of the savanna elephant, which prefers open country and is found in a variety of habitats in Sub-Saharan Africa including grasslands and deserts. The forest elephant, which has a more restricted natural distribution, is thought to occupy only a quarter of its historic range today, with the largest remaining populations found in Gabon and the Republic of the Congo.

“For these assessments, a team of six assessors used data from as far back as the 1960s and a fully data-driven modelling approach to consolidate the decades-long efforts of many survey teams for the first time. The results quantify the dramatic extent of the decline of these ecologically important animals. With persistent demand for ivory and escalating human pressures on Africa’s wild lands, concern for Africa’s elephants is high, and the need to creatively conserve and wisely manage these animals and their habitats is more acute than ever,” said Dr Kathleen Gobush, lead assessor of the African elephants and member of the IUCN SSC African Elephant Specialist Group.

Supporting quotes:

“We are proud to have supported almost 30% of the 6,218 assessments in this update, including assessments of underrepresented species such as trees, fungi and invertebrates,” said Masako Yamato, General Manager, Environmental Affairs Division of Toyota Motor Corporation. “This contributes to the growing diversity of species on the IUCN Red List, making it an increasingly powerful tool for guiding conservation in this important year for the Post 2020 Biodiversity Framework.”

"Just like us, elephants rely on trees and the ecosystem services they provide in order to survive. BGCI’s Global Tree Assessment (GTA) — the first global conservation assessment of all of the world’s known tree species, to be released later this year — will provide a roadmap for conserving the tree species and ecosystems upon which elephants, and species like them, depend," said Dr Malin Rivers, Head of Conservation Prioritisation, Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI).

“Regular re-assessment of a species‘ status on the Red List helps to highlight worrying trends like what the elephants of Africa are experiencing. The health of our planet depends on the health of elephants and the ecosystems they inhabit, which is why Global Wildlife Conservation supports the Elephant Crisis Fund to get funding to groups across Africa working to save, recover, and manage elephant populations," said Dr Barney Long, Global Wildlife Conservation’s Senior Director of Species Conservation.

"Few species evoke the sense of awe African elephants command. This latest assessment shows us that even the most charismatic species need our unwavering protection," said Sean T. O’Brien, President and CEO of Nature Serve. O’Brien continued, “The successful conservation efforts that have taken place thus far bring us hope, but only a coordinated effort to bring together data, policy, and local knowledge will help resolve the underlying issue at hand – the mass extinction of our planet’s precious biodiversity.”

“This year sees the native Australian shrub Cangai Wattle (Acacia cangaiensis) enter the IUCN Red List as Endangered. As we saw on news headlines across the globe last year, the Australian bushfire season caused extreme damage, and ever since scientists have been hard at work evaluating the long-term impact the fires had on wildlife. Unfortunately, with restricted distribution, and increasing risk from wildfires and droughts, this Acacia, which grows in the Australian state New South Wales, is now at high risk of extinction. The good news is that we have banked the seeds of the Acacia at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank for long-term safekeeping and these seeds can also be used for post-fire restoration if required,” said Jack Plummer, scientist in the Conservation Assessment team at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

“These two Red List assessments reflect the outcome of the IUCN SSC African Elephant Specialist Group taking a bold, collaborative, evidence based decision to assess the African elephant as two separate species for the first time and understanding the implications and consequences of this shift. The outcome are robust assessments that provide users with the options to focus conservation efforts appropriately for the Critically Endangered forest elephant and the Endangered savanna elephant. It will be essential for IUCN SSC to engage with African range states and other agencies in dealing with the implications of the assessments,” said Dr Jon Paul Rodríguez, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission.

“The recent decision to list both African elephant species as Threatened (the African forest elephant as Critically Endangered and the African savanna elephant as Endangered) will help to strengthen international efforts to control poaching and provide guidance on the geographical trends in intensity of threats. It will also support those countries and regions that have implemented successful conservation efforts through local knowledge and initiatives, so that a plan for continent-wide recovery can be successful,” said Dr. Thomas E. Lacher, Jr., IUCN Red List Committee and Texas A&M University Red List Partner.

 “Conservation efforts to protect savannah elephants have seen many populations begin to recover, but sadly the same is not true for forest elephants, which remain under intense pressure from habitat loss and poaching. In the Dja Biosphere Reserve in Cameroon, for example, ZSL’s work with the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (MINFOF) suggests a 70% drop in numbers since 1995, with as few as 220 animals remaining,” said Andrew Terry, Director of Conservation at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), “Recovering these populations is vital for the forests but needs commitment across communities, companies and government working together to achieve success.”

The IUCN Red List: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ contributes to the achievement of Target 12 of the 2011– 2020 Strategic Plan for Biodiversity. Target 12: By 2020 the extinction of known threatened species has been prevented and their conservation status, particularly of those most in decline, has been improved and sustained.

IUCN–Toyota Partnership: The five-year partnership between IUCN and Toyota Motor Corporation announced in May 2016 has been significantly increasing knowledge on the extinction risk of more than 28,000 species, including many that are key food sources for a significant portion of the global population. This partnership is driven by the Toyota Environmental Challenge 2050, which aims to reduce the negative impacts associated with automobiles to zero, whilst simultaneously making positive impacts on society.

The IUCN Red List

Global figures for the 2021-1 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species:


(Total threatened species = 37,480)

Extinct = 900

Extinct in the Wild = 79

Critically Endangered = 8,188

Endangered = 14,106

Vulnerable = 15,186

Near Threatened = 7,889

Lower Risk/conservation dependent = 176 (this is an old category that is gradually being phased out of The IUCN Red List)

Least Concern = 69,149

Data Deficient = 18,752

The figures presented above are only for those species that have been assessed for The IUCN Red List to date. Although not all of the world’s species have been assessed, The IUCN Red List provides a useful snapshot of what is happening to species today and highlights the urgent need for conservation action. Relative percentages for threatened species cannot be provided for many taxonomic groups on The IUCN Red List because they have not been comprehensively assessed. For many of these groups, assessment efforts have focused on threatened species; therefore, the percentage of threatened species for these groups would be heavily biased.

For those groups that have been comprehensively assessed, the percentage of threatened species can be calculated, but the actual number of threatened species is often uncertain because it is not known whether Data Deficient (DD) species are actually threatened or not. Therefore, the percentages presented above provide the best estimate of extinction risk for those groups that have been comprehensively assessed (excluding Extinct species), based on the assumption that Data Deficient species are equally threatened as data sufficient species. In other words, this is a mid-point figure within a range from x% threatened species (if all DD species are not threatened) to y% threatened species (if all DD species are threatened). Available evidence indicates that this is a best estimate.

The IUCN Red List threat categories are as follows, in descending order of threat:

Extinct or Extinct in the Wild
Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable: species threatened with global extinction.
Near Threatened: species close to the threatened thresholds or that would be threatened without ongoing conservation measures.
Least Concern: species evaluated with a lower risk of extinction.
Data Deficient: no assessment because of insufficient data.
Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct): this is not a new IUCN Red List Category, but is a flag developed to identify those Critically Endangered species that are in all probability already extinct but for which confirmation is required; for example, through more extensive surveys being carried out and failing to find any individuals

About The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™  

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ (or The IUCN Red List) is an invaluable resource to guide conservation action and policy decisions. It is a health check for our planet – a Barometer of Life. It is the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of plant, animal and fungi species. It is based on an objective system for assessing the risk of extinction of a species should no conservation action be taken.

Species are assigned to one of eight categories of threat based on whether they meet criteria linked to population trend, population size and structure and geographic range. Species listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable are collectively described as ‘threatened’.

The IUCN Red List is not just a register of names and associated threat categories. It is a rich compendium of information on the threats to the species, their ecological requirements, where they live, and information on conservation actions that can be used to reduce or prevent extinctions. The IUCN Red List is a joint effort between IUCN and its Species Survival Commission, working with its IUCN Red List partners – Arizona State University; BirdLife International; Botanic Gardens Conservation International; Conservation International; NatureServe; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Sapienza University of Rome; Texas A&M University; and Zoological Society of London. This work has been made possible with the essential contribution of the Red List Partners.

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About the Species Survival Commission  

The Species Survival Commission (SSC) is the largest of IUCN’s six volunteer commissions with a global membership of around 7,500 experts. SSC advises IUCN and its members on the wide range of technical and scientific aspects of species conservation, and is dedicated to securing a future for biodiversity. SSC has significant input into the international agreements dealing with biodiversity conservation. Learn more.

About the ABQ BioPark  

Located along the Rio Grande River near downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico the ABQ BioPark consists of: The ABQ BioPark Zoo, Botanic Garden, Aquarium and Tingley Beach. Welcoming more than 1.3 million visitors per year, we are the top tourist destination in the state of New Mexico and a critical resource for education and conservation in the US Southwest. Through captive breeding programs, large-scale freshwater fish rearing and reintroduction, habitat restoration initiatives, and seed banking, ABQ BioPark is committed to building sustainable conservation initiatives that benefit New Mexico and the world. ABQ BioPark supports conservation measures though the Assess, Plan, Act model by contributing directly to research, providing technical and logistical support for the IUCN SSC, and engaging in direct conservation. Find out more from their website, or follow them on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

About Arizona State University (ASU)  

Ranked #1 in the U.S. for innovation, Arizona State University (ASU) is a new model for American higher education, combining academic excellence, entrepreneurial energy and broad access. It serves more than 70,000 students in metropolitan Phoenix, AZ. ASU champions intellectual and cultural diversity, and welcomes students from all fifty states and more than one hundred nations across the globe. ASU’s Center for Biodiversity Outcomes (CBO) is a partnership between the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability (GIOS) and the School of Life Sciences (SoLS) via partnerships with NGO’s, companies, and governmental organisations. Follow CBO’s work on Twitter.

About BirdLife International  

BirdLife International is the world’s largest nature conservation Partnership. Together we are over 110 BirdLife Partners worldwide – one per country – and growing, with almost 11 million supporters, 7,000 local conservation groups and 7,400 staff. Find out more on the BirdLife website and BirdLife International’s Facebook

About Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI)  

BGCI is an international organisation that exists to ensure the world-wide conservation of threatened plants, the continued existence of which are intrinsically linked to global issues including poverty, human well-being and climate change. BGCI represents over 700 members – mostly botanic gardens – in 118 countries. We aim to support and empower our members and the wider conservation community so that their knowledge and expertise can be applied to reversing the threat of extinction crisis facing one third of all plants.

The conservation status of a number of Madagascar’s trees was also updated in today’s IUCN Red List update, a report on which will be launched by BGCI on Wednesday 31 March.

About Conservation International (CI)  

Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity, for the long term well-being of people. Founded in 1987 and marking its 25th anniversary in 2012, CI has headquarters in the Washington DC area, and 900 employees working in nearly 30 countries on four continents, plus 1,000+ partners around the world. For more information, please visit CI’s website, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

About Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC)  

GWC conserves the diversity of life on Earth by safeguarding wildlands, protecting wildlife and supporting guardians. We maximize our impact through scientific research, biodiversity exploration, habitat conservation, protected area management, wildlife crime prevention, endangered species recovery, and conservation leadership cultivation. Learn more at

About Missouri Botanical Garden  

Founded in 1859, the Missouri Botanical Garden is the oldest continuously operating botanical garden in the USA and a National Historic Landmark. MBG is a center for botanical research, conservation, and science education.  The information contained in the MBG herbarium, one of the world’s largest, and in the TROPICOS® database, coupled with broad staff expertise in systematics and ecology, support a wide array of conservation activities conducted by members of the Science & Conservation Division, including basic and applied research, conservation of important groups such as orchids, the management of a dozen community-based conservation sites in Madagascar, and risk of extinction assessments, all of which form part of MBG’s contribution to the IUCN Red List Partnership.

About NatureServe  

For nearly 50 years, NatureServe has been the authoritative source for biodiversity data throughout the Western Hemisphere. To protect threatened biodiversity, NatureServe works with nearly 100 organizations and over 1,000 conservation scientists to collect, analyze, and deliver standardized biodiversity information, providing comprehensive spatial data to meet both regulatory and conservation needs. NatureServe and its network partners develop and manage data for over 100,000 species and ecosystems, answering fundamental questions about what exists, where it is found, and how it is doing.

About the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew  

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world-famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding collections as well as its scientific expertise in plant and fungal diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international and a top London visitor attraction. Kew Gardens’ 132 hectares of landscaped gardens, and Wakehurst, Kew’s Wild Botanic Garden in Sussex, attract over 2.5 million visits every year. Kew Gardens was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 260th anniversary in 2019. Wakehurst is home to Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world, as well as over 500 acres of designed landscapes, wild woodlands, ornamental gardens and a nature reserve. The Kew Madagascar Conservation Centre is Kew’s third research centre and only overseas office. RBG Kew receives approximately one third of its funding from Government through the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and research councils. Further funding needed to support RBG Kew’s vital work comes from donors, membership and commercial activity including ticket sales.

About Sapienza University of Rome  

With over 700 years of history and 110,000 students, Sapienza is the largest University in Europe, the second in the world after El Cairo: a city within the city. The University includes 11 faculties and 67 departments. In Sapienza there are over 4,500 professors, and 5,000 administrative and technical staff. Sapienza offers a wide choice of courses including 300 degree programs and 200 specialised qualifications. Students coming from other regions are over 30,000 and the foreign students are over 7,000. Sapienza plans and carries out important scientific investigations in almost all disciplines, achieving high-standard results both on a national and on an international level. Eugenio Gaudio has been the Rector of Sapienza University since November 2014.

About Texas A&M University  

From humble beginnings in 1876 as Texas‘ first public institution of higher learning, to a bustling 5,200-acre campus with a nationally recognised faculty, Texas A&M University is one of a select few universities with land-grant, sea-grant and space- grant designations. With an enrolment of about half men and half women, 25 percent of the freshman class are the first in their family to attend college. Here, 39,000-plus undergraduates and more than 9,400 graduate students have access to world-class research programs and award-winning faculty. Texas A&M has two branch campuses, one in Galveston, Texas, and one in the Middle Eastern country of Qatar. This research-intensive flagship university with 10 colleges was recently ranked first in the nation by Smart Money magazine for "pay-back ratio" (what graduates earn compared to the cost of their education). The 2011 U.S. News and World Report ranked Texas A&M second nationally in their "Great Schools, Great Prices" category among public universities and 22nd overall. Many degree programs are ranked among the top 10 in the country.

About ZSL  

ZSL (Zoological Society of London) is an international conservation charity working to create a world where wildlife thrives. From investigating the health threats facing animals to helping people and wildlife live alongside each other, ZSL is committed to bringing wildlife back from the brink of extinction. Our work is realised through our ground-breaking science, our field conservation around the world and engaging millions of people through our two zoos, ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. For more information, visit the ZSL website.

Über International Union for Convervation of Nature (IUCN)

IUCN is a membership Union composed of both government and civil society organisations. It harnesses the experience, resources and reach of its more than 1,300 Member organisations and the input of more than 15,000 experts. IUCN is the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it.

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