Forest Elephant Populations Have Seen An ~80% Decline In Central Africa’s Most Important Preserve Because Of Poaching

Forest elephant populations in Central Africa’s most important nature preserve, Gabon’s Minkébé National Park, have declined by between 78^ and 81% over recent times as a result of poaching, new research from Duke University has found.

So, even in Central Africa’s largest nature preserve, poaching is still enough of a problem that forest elephants are seemingly now on the verge of blinking out of existence completely.

“Our research suggests that more than 25,000 elephants in Gabon’s Minkébé National Park may have been killed for their ivory between 2004 and 2014,” commented John Poulsen, assistant professor of tropical ecology at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

“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,” he continued.

The new research indicates that while some poaching did seem to originate in Gabon itself, that cross-border poaching (primarily from Cameroon) was the main driver of the decline.

The researchers estimated the decline seen during the 2004-2014 time period by comparing the data of two different “large-scale surveys of elephant dung in Minkébé National Park from 2004 and 2014, using two different analytic methods to account for periods of heavy rainfall that might speed the dung’s decay and skew the surveys’ accuracy.”

“Based on changes in the abundance and geographic distribution of the dung, we identified two fronts of poaching pressure,” Poulsen commented.

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

The press release provides more: “The proximity of this road makes it relatively easy for Cameroonese poachers to access the park and transport their illegal haul back to their nation’s largest city, Douala, a major hub of the international ivory trade.”

It’s notable here that in recent years the Gabonese government has made relatively strong efforts tot address the poaching problem — with the government raising the forest elephants statist to “fully protected,” with the creation of a National Park Police force; with the doubling of the national park agency’s budget, and with the decision being made to burn all confiscated elephant ivory. Pretty strong actions, but very possibly not enough to stop the rapid decline of forest elephant populations.

Poulsen notes that these efforts haven’t much slowed illegal cross border traffic, and that: “The clock is ticking.”

He continued: “To save Central Africa’s forest elephants, we need to create new multinational protected areas and coordinate international law enforcement to ensure the prosecution of foreign nationals who commit or encourage wildlife crimes in other countries.”

“Studies showing sharp declines in forest elephant populations are nothing new, but 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.”

The new study is published in the journal Current Biology.

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