Poachers are turning out to be the biggest threat to African forest Elephants. In a study published in the online journal PLOS ONE it was found that a shocking 62 percent of the wild forest elephants of Africa have fallen down in the hands of poachers in the last decade. If the trend continues, Africa may lose one of its most iconic animals.
The study, which one of the largest ever studies on African forest Elephants, was conducted by Wildlife Conservation Society conservationists Fiona Maisels, PhD, and Samantha Strindberg, PhD, the lead authors. It was also supported by San Diego Zoo Global.
“Saving the species requires a coordinated global effort in the countries where elephants occur, all along the ivory smuggling routes and at the final destination in the Far East. We don’t have much time,” say the conservationist.
The study is the coordinated effort of 60 scientists and an immense number of national conservation staff who spent a combined 91,600 days surveying elephants in 5 countries. These were Cameroon, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and the Republic of Congo. The observations were conducted within a span of 10 years between 2002 and 2011.
The surveyors spent these years, walking over 13,000 kilometers (more than 8,000 miles) and recording over 11,000 elephant dung piles for the analysis.
They found that over the years more than one third of the land where African forest elephants lived and roamed freely had become too dangerous for them. Results clearly showed that forest elephants were increasingly uncommon in places with high human density, high infrastructure density such as roads, high hunting intensity, and poor governance as indicated by levels of corruption and absence of law enforcement.
Bethan Morgan, PhD, head of San Diego Zoo Global’s Central Africa Program, stressed the importance of this study.
“This is the largest collaborative study of its kind across the whole of Central Africa and really highlights the plight of this ecologically important species. Forest elephants are integral to a functioning forest in Africa, opening up the forest floor and acting as a vital part of the life cycle of many plant species through their role as seed dispersers. We have increasing evidence of a decline in certain tree species as a result of the local extinction of forest elephants.”
The African forest elephant is distinct from African savanna elephants and many believe them to be separate species. They are slightly smaller in built than their larger counterparts.
Research carried out by the CITES-MIKE program previously has shown that since 2006 poaching levels have increased in Africa due to the increasing demands for ivory in the far eastern countries. This has been indirectly linked to the high poverty level and poor governance, leading many to turn poachers and kill elephants.