Deep in the rainforests of central Africa, you might think that wildlife would be safe from the onslaught of poachers. But even in some of the most remote parts of the continent, away from large towns and people, elephants are still falling to the guns of those seeking their ivory.
A new paper published in Current Biology has found that the isolated Minkébé National Park, Gabon, is not safe from the ravages of ivory poachers. Their latest population estimate of forest elephants living in the reserve found that over 25,000 of the animals may have been slaughtered over a 10-year period between 2004 and 2014, amounting to a decline of 80 percent.
This figure comes as somewhat of a shock. Gabon is thought to harbor the largest remaining population of forest elephants in the dense rainforest that covers roughly three-quarters of the country. It was thought that the remoteness and inaccessibility of large tracts of these forests, coupled with the country’s strong commitment to wildlife protection, meant that the animals within it were buffered from the wave of poaching that has struck many other African nations. It seems that is not so.
“We can no longer assume that apparently large and remote protected areas will conserve species – poachers will go anywhere that a profit can be made,” says co-author John Poulsen in a statement. “A corollary of this is that cross-border poaching is a major threat to species protection, and bilateral and multilateral efforts are essential for conservation. Species cross borders, and so do poachers.”
The relatively little known nation of Gabon, located on the Atlantic coast in Central Africa, was until recently thought to have escaped much of the decimation of wildlife seen elsewhere. In fact, over 10 percent of the land has been given protection in 13 national parks in a bid to safeguard the nation’s vast natural wealth from oil exploitation, logging, and mining.
The rainforests and patchwork savanna hold some of the most important populations of gorillas, chimpanzees, and elephants anywhere in Africa, but it seems that they are still not safe. “Because Gabon is thought to hold the largest remaining population of forest elephants, the implication is that forest elephants are in even more trouble than previously believed,” says Poulsen.
The researchers cite poachers crossing into the park from neighboring Cameroon, in conjunction with the fact that the forest elephants are still not recognized as a separate species, as the cause of their decline. They are calling on the international community to increase pressure to nations still buying ivory and to recognize forest elephants as critically endangered in a bid to save them from disappearing forever.