Pygmy Elephant

Small Elephant of Central Africa.

Scientific names: Elephas africana pumilio, given by Theodore Noack in 1906; Elephas fransseni, given by Henri Schouteden in 1914. These designations have changed to Loxodonta a. pumilio and L. fransseni with the taxonomic switch of African elephants from Elephas to Loxodonta a few years later.

Variant names: Abele (Kari/Bantu), Esemasa, Essala (in Central African Republic), Kowuru, Lokpaka (in southern Cameroon), M'bakiri (Banda/Ubangi), Messala (in Cameroon and the Republic of the Congo), Mussaga (in Gabon), Ndgoko na maiji (Teke/Bantu), Ndimbila, Nzefu Loi, Sumbi (in Sierra Leone), Wakawaka (in the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Water elephant.

Physical description: Shoulder height, 3 feet 8 inches-6 feet 8 inches. Weight, up to 3,100 pounds. Reddish-brown to brownish-gray or black skin. Flat face. Large, roundish ears. Trunk with two fingerlike appendages on the tip. Relatively long tusks (2 feet 2 inches long on a specimen 5 feet 5 inches tall at the shoulder). Highest point of back is immediately behind the head. Round, thin tail with a tuft of hairs at the end.

A more exclusively aquatic variety in the Congo could be a completely different animal, possibly related to the Water Lion. Aquatic variety: Ears are relatively smaller than the African elephant's. Head is long and ovoid. Short, 2-foot trunk. No tusks. Longish neck. Curved back. Shiny skin. Short legs.

Behavior: Truculent, aggressive temperament. Raises its trunk frequently to catch scents. Travels in troops (ten to twenty) or herds (fifty to seventy) of adults and young. Aquatic variety: Nocturnal. Swims with trunk and top of the head out of the water. Grazes on rank grass at night. Said to capsize boats by rising up unexpectedly out of the water. Destroys fishnets and traps.

Tracks: The aquatic variety shows four distinctly separated toes, with the sole impression less pronounced than that of other elephants. Length, 10-11 inches.

Habitat: Dense, swampy rain forest.

Distribution: From Sierra Leone to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, especially Nd-jolé and Fernan Vaz in Gabon; the Yobe River in the Central African Republic; southern Cameroon; Equatorial Guinea; Lake Mai-Ndombe, Democratic Republic of the Congo; the Uele River near Gangala-na-Bodio, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Significant sightings: In 1904, an enigmatic, unfossilized ivory tusk that matches no known species of elephant was acquired in the marketplace at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, by Baron Maurice de Rothschild. It is about 2 feet long along the curve, flat along most of its length, and rounded at the tip, and it has five natural grooves on the bottom.

A young Pygmy elephant, captured in the Republic of the Congo by Carl Hagenback in 1905, was examined in Hannover, Germany, by Theodore Noack, who designated it a subspecies of the African elephant. The animal, nicknamed "Congo," grew to a shoulder height of 6 feet at the Bronx Zoo before it died of a leg disease in 1915.

In June 1907, a traveler named Le Petit observed the aquatic variety, called locally Ndgoko na maiji, in the Congo River near its junction with the Kwa. At a later date, he observed five specimens on land near Lake Mai-Ndombe, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In 1911, a Belgian officer, Lieutenant Franssen, killed a specimen that was 5 feet 5 inches tall, with tusks more than 2 feet long, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In 1913, a settler living near Léfini, Republic of the Congo, showed Hans Schomburgk a thick piece of skin, densely covered with red hair, that was said to come from a "river elephant."

In January 1955, François Edmond-Blanc went on an expedition to southern Cameroon to collect a Pygmy elephant for the University of Copenhagen. After three hours of tracking on marshy ground, he came across a group of twelve elephants that did not exceed a shoulder

Aboriginal The Bronx Zoo 1905
Congo, the type specimen of the PYGMY ELEPHANT captured in 1905, shown during its brief exhibition at the London Zoo before being transferred to the Bronx Zoo. (Fortean Picture Library)

height of 6 feet.

A Captain Chicharro killed an adult elephant 6 feet 6 inches tall near the Rio Benito, Equatorial Guinea, in September 1957. It was one of a herd of twenty-one individuals.

German animal collector Ulrich Roeder examined a dead male specimen in southern Cameroon in the 1970s. Its age was approximately sixteen to eighteen years, and its tusks measured 2 feet 5 inches.

H. J. Steinfurth filmed three Pygmy elephants in a clearing near the Yobe River, Central African Republic. Each one had the long tusks of an adult and stood between 5 feet 3 inches and 5 feet 6 inches at the shoulder.

Photographs showing a band of Pygmy elephants were taken in May 1982 in the Lik-ouala drainage area of the Republic of the

Congo by former West German ambassador Harald N. Nestroy. The group included four adults and two juveniles. The shoulder height of the fully tusked adults was estimated at 5 feet, based on the presence of a Great egret (Egretta alba) in the photo. Shortly afterward, Nestroy saw forest elephants and forest buffalo in the same clearing, all much larger than the pygmies.

A dead female Pygmy elephant, 5 feet 3 inches at the shoulder, was found at the Pygmy village of Makokou, Gabon, by L. P. Knoepfler in the 1980s. It contained a full-term fetus, demonstrating that the animal was an adult.

Present status: Accepted by some, but not all, taxonomists.

Possible explanations:

(1) The African forest elephant (Loxodonta


cyclotis). Much confusion exists in the mainstream literature between the forest elephant and the Pygmy elephant. If mentioned at all, the latter is dismissed as a misidentified cyclotis, with the caveat that it is smaller than the African bush elephant (L. africana). However, the shoulder height for forest males is given as 7 feet 9 inches-9 feet 9 inches, compared with the bush male's 9 feet 9 inches-13 feet; female heights are cited as 6 feet 9 inches-8 feet 6 inches (for forest elephants), compared with 7 feet 9 inches-9 feet 9 inches (for bush elephants). Pygmies are distinctly smaller. Forest elephants do have more rounded ears than africana and straighter, thinner tusks.

(2) Juvenile African forest elephants, suggested by Glover Allen, although these animals remain integrated with adult herds and do not form troops of their own.

(3) A distinct species of small African elephant that prefers a moist, swampy habitat; perhaps it evolved, like other African elephants, from the ancestral L. adaurora some 3 million years ago.

(4) A surviving deinothere, a family of proboscideans that lived in Europe, Africa, and India during the Pliocene, 3-2 million years ago, suggested by Bernard Heuvelmans. Deinotherium giganteum stood up to 13 feet tall at the shoulder and had a short trunk and two small, backward-curving tusks in the lower jaw. Smaller species such as D. bavaricum, the size of a small Asian elephant, persisted into the Pleistocene.

(5) An evolved, pig-sized mastodont such as Phiomia, with short upper and lower shovel-shaped tusks and a long neck. Known from Egypt and India in the Oligocene, 26 million years ago.

(6) An evolved version of the tapirlike, semiaquatic Moeritherium (a proboscidean known from the Late Eocene of North Africa, 36-34 million years ago), an alternate suggestion by Karl Shuker that presupposes the development of a trunk and long tusks.

(7) Some reports of the aquatic, sabre-toothed WATER LION may be mixed up with those of an aquatic, tusked elephant. Sources: Theodore Noack, "A Dwarf Form of the African Elephant," Annals and Magazine ofNaturalHistory, ser. 7, 17 (1906): 501-503; Maurice de Rothschild and Henri Neuville, "Sur un dent d'origine énigmatique," Archives de Zoologie Expérimentale et Générale, ser. 4, 7 (October 15, 1907): 271, 333; Édouard-Louis Trouessart, "L'éléphant d'eau," La Nature 76 (January 14, 1911); R. J. Cuninghame, "The Water-Elephant," Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society, no. 21 (1912): 97-99; Frank Finn, Wild Animals of Yesterday and Today (London: S. W. Partridge, 1913), p. 364; Henri Schouteden, "L'éléphant nain du Lac Léopold II," Revue Zoologique Africaine 3 (1914): 391-397; Glover M. Allen, "The Forest Elephant of Africa," Proceedings of the Academy ofNatural Sciences ofPhiladelphia 88 (1936): 15-44; E. Bourdelle and F. Petter, "Note relative à un elephant nain du Gabon," Mammalia 14 (1950): 145-153; F. Edmond-Blanc, "Contribution à l'étude des elephants nains du Sud-Cameroun," Mammalia 19 (1955): 428-429; Bernard Heuvelmans, On the Track ofUnknown Animals (New York: Hill and Wang, 1958), pp. 361-365, 472-474; Aurelio Basilio, La vida animal en la Guinea Espanola (Madrid: Instituto de Estudios Africanos, 1962); Theodor Haltenorth and Helmut Diller, The Collins Field Guide to the Mammals of Africa Including Madagascar (Lexington, Mass.: Stephen Greene, 1980), pp. 127-128; Martin Eisentraut and Wolfgang Böhme, "Gibt es zwei Elefantenarten in Afrika?" Zeitschrift des Kölner Zoo 32, no. 2 (1989): 61-68; Wolfgang Böhme and Martin Eisentraut, "Zur weiteren Dokumentation des Zwergelefanten (Loxodonta pumilio Noack)," Zeitschrift des Kölner Zoo 33, no. 4 (1990): 153-158; "New Evidence Supports Existence of Pygmy Elephant," ISC Newsletter 9, no. 1 (Spring 1990): 1-6; "New Pygmy Elephant Photos Indicate Separate Species," ISC Newsletter 11, no. 1 (1992): 1-3.

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