62% of all Africa's forest elephants killed in 10 years (warning: graphic images)

mongabay.com
March 04, 2013




Forest elephant in Gabon

More than 60 percent of Africa's forest elephants have been killed in the past decade due to the ivory trade, reports a new study published in the online journal PLOS ONE.

The study warns that the diminutive elephant species — genetically distinct from the better-known savanna elephant — is rapidly heading toward extinction.

“The analysis confirms what conservationists have feared: the rapid trend towards extinction – potentially within the next decade – of the forest elephant,” said study co-author Samantha Strindberg of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

“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," added co-author Fiona Maisels, also of WCS. "We don’t have much time before elephants are gone.”

The study is based on the largest-ever set of survey data across five forest elephant range countries: Cameroon, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and the Republic of Congo. The study involved more than 60 scientists who spent 91,600 person-days surveying for elephants, walking over 13,000 kilometers (more than 8,000 miles).


A dead forest elephant with its tusks removed by ivory poachers. Photo credit: Andrea Turkalo/WCS.


The study shows that elephants are increasingly scarce in areas with "high human density, high infrastructure density such as roads, high hunting intensity, and poor governance", according to a statement from WCS.

“Historically, elephants ranged right across the forests of this vast region of over 2 million square kilometers (over 772,000 square miles), but now cower in just a quarter of that area," said co-author John Hart of the Lukuru Foundation. "Although the forest cover remains, it is empty of elephants, demonstrating that this is not a habitat degradation issue. This is almost entirely due to poaching."

The decline in elephant populations has significant implications for the forest ecosystem. Elephants are considered "architects of the forest" for the role in opening clearings and maintain trails.

“A rain forest without elephants is a barren place," explained Lee White. "They bring it to life, they create the trails and keep open the forest clearings other animals use; they disperse the seeds of many of the rainforest trees – elephants are forest gardeners at a vast scale. Their calls reverberate through the trees reminding us of the grandeur of primeval nature. If we do not turn the situation around quickly the future of elephants in Africa is doomed. These new results illustrate starkly just how dramatic the situation has become. Our actions over the coming decade will determine whether this iconic species survives.”


Percentage breakdown of the total number of forest elephants by country: for 3 time periods: pre-1970s and 1989 and 2011. Courtesy of Maisels et al (2013)



The study comes as representatives from 178 countries are gathered at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meeting in Bangkok to debate wildlife trade issues, including the ivory market. Critics of the ivory trade say the current system, where legal ivory is often used to provide a cover for black-market ivory, isn't working, citing the rapid increase in elephant poaching. It is estimated that more than 50,000 elephants were poached in the last year alone for their tusks. Demand primarily comes from East Asia, especially China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines.

Addressing demand is increasingly seen as a top priority for elephant conservation.

“This study provides unequivocal evidence of the rapid demise of one of the planet’s most charismatic and intelligent species," said George Wittemyer of Save the Elephants and Colorado State University. "The world must wake up to stem this destruction of species due to conspicuous consumption.”


CITATION: Maisels F, Strindberg S, Blake S, Wittemyer G, Hart J, et al. (2013) Devastating Decline of Forest Elephants in Central Africa. PLoS ONE 8(3): e59469. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059469










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CITATION:
mongabay.com (March 04, 2013).

62% of all Africa's forest elephants killed in 10 years (warning: graphic images).

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