Africa’s Forest Elephants Face Tough Road Ahead
April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
African forest elephants live in the forests of Central and Western Africa. They are a smaller cousin to the African savannah elephant, with straighter tusks and smoother skin, which many consider to be a separate species. They are also being poached into extinction. A new study led by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy reveals that over the past decade, a stunning 62 percent of all forest elephants have been killed for their ivory across their entire range in Central Africa. Researchers fear this severe decline indicates the eminent extinction of the species.
“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 Wildlife Conservation Society conservationists Fiona Maisels, PhD, and Samantha Strindberg, PhD.
Their study, published in PLOS ONE, is the largest ever conducted on the African forest elephant. Over 60 scientists participated between 2002 and 2011, along with an immense effort by national conservation staff. The staff members spent a combined 91,600 days surveying elephants in five countries — Cameroon, Central African Republic, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and the Republic of Congo. They walked over 8,000 miles and recorded over 11,000 elephant dung piles for analysis.
One-third of the land where African forest elephants were able to live a decade ago has become too dangerous for them today. The study reveals a clear correlation between a decline in elephant population and 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.
“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,” said Bethan Morgan, PhD, head of San Diego Zoo Global’s Central Africa Program, stressing the importance of the findings.
The CITES-MIKE (Monitoring the Killing of Elephants) Program research has shown the increase in poaching across Africa since 2006 bears a strong correlation to trends in consumer demand in the Far East. Poaching levels are also strongly linked with governance at the national level and poverty at the local level, the research shows, resulting in escalating elephant massacres in areas previously thought to be safe.
Dedicated to bringing endangered species back from the brink of extinction, the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy includes onsite wildlife conservation efforts of both plants and animals at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, and international field programs in more than 35 countries.