Home Science Biology Poachers are decimating African forest elephants
Male forest elephant at the Langoué Bai (forest clearing), Ivindo National Park, Gabon. Male forest elephant at the Langoué Bai (forest clearing), Ivindo National Park, Gabon. Peter H. Wrege

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According to a March 2013 article published in the journal PLOS One, forest elephants in central Africa are being illegally killed (poached) in extremely large numbers by humans who are out for their ivory. What are we going to do about this?

According to this study of forest elephants (species name: Loxodonta cyclotis) in central Africa, their numbers have decreased by 62% over the last 10 years.

The analysis of this group of international scientists concludes that unless something is done now to stop this dramatic decrease, these African forest elephants could be extinct within the next decade.

These scientists are members of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and several other conservation organizations. The image above, by Peter H. Wrege, shows a male African forest elephant coming "to the clearing to drink mineral-rich water, obtained from pits dug by elephants at specific locations within the clearing."

Dr. Fiona Maisels, one of the authors of the study and a WCS conservation scientist, stated in the BBC Nature News article African forest elephants decline by 62% in 10 years, "Although we were expecting to see these results, we were horrified that the decline over the period of a mere decade was over 60%."

The article entitled "Devastating Decline of Forest Elephants in Central Africa" was published in the journal PLOS One on March 4, 2013.

Its abstract states the problem: poaching: "African forest elephants– taxonomically and functionally unique–are being poached at accelerating rates, but we lack range-wide information on the repercussions. Analysis of the largest survey dataset ever assembled for forest elephants (80 foot-surveys; covering 13,000 km; 91,600 person-days of fieldwork) revealed that population size declined by ca. 62% between 2002–2011, and the taxon lost 30% of its geographical range."

And, the authors state how bad the problem is and what is accelerating the decline: "The population is now less than 10% of its potential size, occupying less than 25% of its potential range. High human population density, hunting intensity, absence of law enforcement, poor governance, and proximity to expanding infrastructure are the strongest predictors of decline."

Further, they state what can be done to save the African forest elephants: "To save the remaining African forest elephants, illegal poaching for ivory and encroachment into core elephant habitat must be stopped. In addition, the international demand for ivory, which fuels illegal trade, must be dramatically reduced."

Learn more about the species Loxodonta cyclotis -- the African forest elephant -- at the website of Animal Diversity Web.

The website states under the heading Predation: "Humans are the greatest threats to African forest elephants. They have been extensively hunted for their ivory, which may be why many African forest elephants travel and feed at night."


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William Atkins

William Atkins completed educational degrees in science (bachelor’s in physics and mathematics) from Illinois State University (Normal, United States) and business (master’s in entrepreneurship and bachelor’s in industrial relations) from Western Illinois University