Mar 5

African forest elephants have undergone a 62% decline in 10 years and face extinction if drastic measures are not taken, according to a new study.

Photo of forest elephant bull

Mature male forest elephant

The study was the largest ever conducted on the forest elephant. Led by researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), it involved over 60 scientists who surveyed the forests of Central Africa between 2002 and 2011, recording signs of forest elephants as well as human signs such as snares and bullet casings.

The results of the study, published in the journal PLoS One, confirmed the scientists’ fears. As well as suffering a huge population decline, the forest elephant has been lost from nearly a third of its range since 2002, and large areas where the species roamed just ten years ago now have few elephants remaining. Unless urgent action is taken, the species could face extinction within the next decade.

Although we were expecting to see these results, we were horrified that the decline over the period of a mere decade was over 60%,” said Dr Fiona Maisels, a WCS conservation scientist from the University of Sterling and one of the lead authors of the study.

Photo of forest elephant infants

Forest elephant infants

Poached for ivory

The forest elephant is smaller than its more familiar relative, the savanna or African elephant, and is also distinguished by its smaller, rounded ears and straighter, downward-pointing tusks. The two are considered by many to be separate species.

The study found that the main cause of the forest elephant’s dramatic decline is poaching for its ivory. Even large tracts of intact forest have lost most of their elephants, and the species’ decline was associated with areas of high human density, high hunting intensity, lack of law enforcement, and infrastructure such as roads, which allow poachers easy access to the forest.

Photo of forest elephant bull

Forest elephant bull

Research by the Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme run by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has shown that the increase in poaching of elephants across Africa is strongly correlated to an increase in consumer demand for ivory in the Far East.

Icon of the forest

Conservationists have warned that urgent action is needed to save the forest elephant. Illegal ivory poaching and encroachment into elephant habitat must to be stopped, and the international demand for ivory needs to be reduced.

Photo of large bonfire of confiscated African elephant ivory

Large bonfire of confiscated African elephant ivory

The latest study has been released to coincide with the 2013 CITES Conference of the Parties, taking place in Bangkok from 3rd to 14th March. Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has already pledged at the conference to amend Thai laws to end the country’s ivory trade. However, further action is still needed.

The WCS is advising that CITES review the enforcement gaps and needs – at all points in the trade chain from the field to the marketplace – that have led to the failure of the current ivory trade regulation system,” said Dr Maisels. “Reducing chronic corruption and improving poor law enforcement, which facilitate poaching and trade, are crucial. It is also vital to improve control of import and sales of wildlife goods by the recipient and transit countries of illegal ivory, especially in Asia.”

Photo of forest elephant herd in bai digging for salt

Forest elephant herd digging for salt

The forest elephant is not only an icon of Africa’s forests, but also plays a key role in their health, by dispersing seeds, clearing trails, and helping to maintain the forests’ biodiversity. Saving this iconic elephant will therefore also be vital for the conservation of many other forest 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 before elephants are gone,” said Dr Maisels.

 

Read more on this story at BBC Nature News – African forest elephants decline by 62% in 10 years and WCS – Extinction looms for forest elephants.

View photos and videos of elephants on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Comments are closed.

About

RSS feedARKive.org is the place for films, photos and facts about endangered species. Subscribe to our blog today to keep up to date!

Email updates

Sign up to receive a regular email digest of ARKive blog posts.
Preferred frequency:

Recent posts

Categories

Popular tags

Archives

ARKive twitter

Twitter: ARKive