By A. Laguardia, S. Bourgeois, S. Strindberg, K.S. Gobush, G. Abitsi, H.G. Bikang Bi Ateme, F. Ebouta, J.M. Fay, A.M. Gopalaswamy, F. Maisels, E.L.F. Simira Banga Daouda, L.J.T. White & E. J. Stokes – Science Direct
Robust monitoring programs are essential for understanding changes in wildlife population dynamics and distribution over time, especially for species of conservation concern. In this study, we applied a rapid non-invasive sampling approach to the Critically Endangered African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis), at nationwide scale in its principal remaining population strongholds in Gabon. We used a species-specific customized genetic panel and spatial capture-recapture (SCR) approach, which gave a snapshot of current abundance and density distribution of forest elephants across the country. We estimated mean forest elephant density at 0.38 (95% Confidence Interval 0.24–0.52) per km2 from 18 surveyed sites. We confirm that Gabon is the main forest elephant stronghold, both in terms of estimated population size: 95,110 (95% CI 58,872–131,349) and spatial distribution (250,782 km2). Predicted elephant densities were highest in relatively flat areas with a high proportion of suitable habitat not in proximity to the national border. Protected areas and human pressure were not strong predictors of elephant densities in this study. Our nationwide systematic survey of forest elephants of Gabon serves as a proof-of-concept of application of noninvasive genetic sampling for rigorous population monitoring at large spatial scales. To our knowledge, it is the first nationwide DNA-based assessment of a free-ranging large mammal in Africa. Our findings offer a useful national baseline and status update for forest elephants in Gabon. It will inform adaptive management and stewardship of elephants and forests in the most important national forest elephant stronghold in Africa.