A new research revealed that the forest elephants registered a massive numbers drop. The Minkebe National Park in Gabon population fell by 78 to 81 percent in about a decade. And this is mostly due to poaching.
African forest elephants are a forest-dwelling species. They are mostly found in the Congo Basin. The species is the third largest living terrestrial animal. But at the same time, it is the smallest species of extant elephants.
Forest elephant numbers registered a first massive drop back in between 2002 and 2013. At the time, their populations fell by 65 percent. Poaching was one of the main reasons. But also the elephants’ biology. This species has a slower rate of birth. As such, its numbers take longer to recover.
Now, a new study shows that their population numbers are still decreasing at a concerning rate. The study was carried out by a team of Duke University researchers. It was led by John Poulsen. He is an assistant professor of tropical ecology at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke’s.
Report results were released earlier this week. They were published in the Current Biology journal. Available online since February 20th, the paper was titled as follows. “Poaching empties critical Central African wilderness of forest elephants”.
The research analyzed the forest elephant population housed by the Minkebe National Park. This is situated in Gabon and is one of the largest and most important preserves in Central Africa.
According to the report, the local preserve population numbers dropped by 78 to 81 percent. This decrease was registered for the 2004 to 2014 period. An estimated number of over 25,000 forest elephants are believed to have been killed throughout the decade. Most are believed to have been poached for their ivory.
Presently, Gabon is considered to hold almost half of all the forest elephants living in Central Africa. As such, the massive numbers drop are a great cause for concern. And also a considerable setback in their preservation efforts. In total, Central Africa may be hosting about 100,000 forest elephants.
According to the report, some of the poachings originate from Gabon. But most of the population drop may have been driven by cross-border poaching. Hunters from neighboring countries, especially the northern ones, may be largely to blame.
The researchers compiled their study based on two large scale surveys. These targeted the Minkebe National Park elephant dung. And they were carried out from 2004 to 2014.
These surveys utilized two different and separate analytic methods. In doing so, they ensured their research accuracy. For example, the analytic methods accounted for the heavy rainfall periods.
According to Poulsen, the such collected samples were used in the present study. this analyzed the samples’ change in abundance. And also in geographic distribution. As such, they were able to detect two poaching pressure fronts.
Presently, the central and northern part of the park populations have been reportedly emptied. In contrast, southern part populations were “somewhat” reduced. Each population’s proximity to a major road is considered to have made a difference.
Poachers find it easier to hunt the animals if they are closer to the roads. This is because it is both easier to access the park area. And also to transport their illegal hauls.
The Gabonese government has been fighting back against such practices. Their efforts intensified starting with 2011. At the time, forest elephants saw a conservation status change. They were moved to “fully protected” animals.
According to Poulsen, these efforts are quite laudable and may be helping curb the poaching. But a more sustained, multinational effort would be needed. New multinational protected areas would most likely be required as well.
Poulsen also stated the following. This significant population drop in such a remote and protected area is a warning sign. One that draws further attention to poaching practices.
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