Gabon forest elephants numbers collapse

210217 forestelephants 1
An African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) crosses a river. Forest elephants are an elusive subspecies of African elephants and inhabit the densely wooded rainforests of west and central Africa. Their preference for dense forest habitat prohibits traditional counting methods such as visual identification.
Credit: Roger de la Harpe/Getty Images

One of central Africa’s most important elephant sanctuaries has seen an 80% collapse in numbers due to poaching, a study has found.

Between 2004 and 2014, more than 25,000 forest elephants were slaughtered for their ivory in Gabon’s Minkébé National Park, Duke University research shows.

“With nearly half of Central Africa’s estimated 100,000 forest elephants thought to live in Gabon, the loss of 25,000 elephants from this key sanctuary is a considerable setback for the preservation of the species,” John Poulsen, assistant professor of tropical ecology at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

The study was published in the journal Current Biology.

The findings are a blow to the Gabonese government, which since 2011 has worked hard to curb poaching.

Poulsen says the measures have been effective against poachers in the country itself, but have done little to stop cross-border raids on the animals – particularly from Cameroon to the north.

The researchers estimated the population losses by comparing data from two large-scale surveys of elephant dung in Minkébé National Park from 2004 and 2014, making allowances for heavy rainfall and other factors.

Poulsen says that showed a clear pattern of attack.

“Elephant numbers in the south of the park, which is 58 kilometres from the nearest major Gabonese road, have been somewhat reduced,” he said. “By comparison, the central and northern parts of the park – which, at one point, are just 6.1 kilometres from Cameroon’s national road – have been emptied.”

While forest elephant populations have been under threat for a long time, “a 78 to 81% loss in a single decade from one of the largest, most remote protected areas in Central Africa is a startling warning that no place is safe from poaching”, Poulsen said.

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