This is a small group of forest elephants in Gabon’s Minkébé National Park. Poaching for the illegal ivory trade has reduced their numbers by 80 percent, according to a new study. Photo: John Poulsen / Duke University

By Mike Gaworecki
24 February 2017

(Mongabay) – New research suggests that more than 25,000 forest elephants were killed for their ivory in Gabon’s Minkébé National Park, one of the largest and most important wildlife preserves in Central Africa, between 2004 and 2014.

That’s a decline of somewhere between 78 and 81 percent in the park’s forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) population over the span of just one decade, and it was largely driven by poachers who crossed the border into Gabon from its neighbor to the north, Cameroon, according to a new study led by researchers with Duke University and published in the journal Current Biology this week.

“With nearly half of Central Africa’s estimated 100,000 forest elephants thought to live in Gabon, the loss of 25,000 elephants from this key sanctuary is a considerable setback for the preservation of the species,” John Poulsen, assistant professor of tropical ecology at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and the lead author of the study, said in a statement.

Thanks to booming consumer demand, particularly in Asia, wildlife trafficking operations are so militarized today that poachers are frequently armed with enough weaponry and other equipment to outgun local park rangers. The most dangerous poachers in Africa are often employed by professional wildlife trafficking rings and have access to resources well beyond what was available to poachers during earlier crises, from financial support to military-grade equipment such as armored vehicles, helicopters, and machine guns. […]

“Elephant numbers in the south of the park, which is 58 kilometers from the nearest major Gabonese road, have been somewhat reduced,” Poulsen said. “By comparison, the central and northern parts of the park — which, at one point, are just 6.1 kilometers from Cameroon’s national road — have been emptied.” [more]

More than 25,000 elephants were killed in a Gabon national park in one decade


ABSTRACT: Elephant populations are in peril everywhere, but forest elephants in Central Africa have sustained alarming losses in the last decade. Large, remote protected areas are thought to best safeguard forest elephants by supporting large populations buffered from habitat fragmentation, edge effects and human pressures. One such area, the Minkébé National Park (MNP), Gabon, was created chiefly for its reputation of harboring a large elephant population. MNP held the highest densities of elephants in Central Africa at the turn of the century, and was considered a critical sanctuary for forest elephants because of its relatively large size and isolation. We assessed population change in the park and its surroundings between 2004 and 2014. Using two independent modeling approaches, we estimated a 78–81% decline in elephant numbers over ten years — a loss of more than 25,000 elephants. While poaching occurs from within Gabon, cross-border poaching largely drove the precipitous drop in elephant numbers. With nearly 50% of forest elephants in Central Africa thought to reside in Gabon, their loss from the park is a considerable setback for the preservation of the species.

Poaching empties critical Central African wilderness of forest elephants

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