It has long been known that poaching is decimating elephant populations and wildlife organisations have been working with local authorities to try and cut down on the damage that is being done. However, new research has shown that strategies have not been working, at least not for the forest elephant. Sadly, a piece of research has shown that over 60% of forest elephants in central Africa have been killed for their ivory over the past decade.
These frightening findings were recently published in the online journal PLOS One. The group of researchers who took part in the study were from a variety of organisations involved in wildlife conservation, including the Wildlife Conservation Society, the World Wide Fund for Nature, Programme de Conservation et Utilisation Rationale des Ecosystemes Forestiers en Afrique Centrale), the Dian Fossey Gorilla Foundation International and the Jane Goodall Institute.”
The collaboration has resulted in the largest ever study into the forest elephant. The 60 scientists involved in the groundwork for the study spent a total of over 91,000 days studying elephants in Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Gabon.
The forest elephant is considered by some to be a separate species from the savannah elephant, which is generally better known. Its natural habitat is tropical rainforest. In the past, forest elephants were able to roam relatively freely across huge tracts of land covering 2 million square kilometres. That area is now believed to have decreased to just a quarter of its original size.
There are a number of reasons for this, including the proliferation of infrastructure and the increased number of humans that the resulting accessibility brings. However, it is believed that poaching is the main course for concern, because the elephants are avoiding forest cover in areas in which they previously lived, out of fear of being hunted by poachers. As the study points out, this has led to the population of forest elephants being just 10% of its potential size.
The study makes one thing very clear. In order to save the remaining forest elephants, action needs to be taken and it needs to be taken immediately. Poaching must be stopped by whatever means necessary; if not, the African forest elephant will be facing extinction. Ivory poaching is already illegal in most areas, but the law enforcement procedures necessary are not always in place, and where it is, corrupt officials allow poachers to find their way around the system. Another priority is to cut down on the international demand for ivory. In many countries, it has already fallen significantly, but there are some parts of the world where the demand is still high – for example, China.
The report mentions what has already been put in place to curb poaching in Central Africa. China has put forward a paper outlining the country’s efforts to decrease the demand for ivory and international organisations, including Interpol and the World Customs Association, are collaborating to cut down on the illegal trading of ivory. However, action needs to be taken on the ground in Central Africa to ensure that law enforcement is in place, that there are strong penalties for illegal activity and that local people are educated about the harm that poachers are doing. Only then will forest elephants have a hope of survival.