By Spring Hill Insider
Forest elephant populations in one of Central Africa‘s largest and
most important preserves have declined between 78 percent and 81
percent because of poaching, a new Duke University-led study finds.
“Our research suggests that more than 25,000 elephants in Gabon‘s
Minkébé National Park may have been killed for their ivory between
2004 and 2014,” said John Poulsen, assistant professor of tropical
ecology at Duke‘s Nicholas School of the Environment.
“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,” he said.
While some of the originated from within Gabon, findings from the new
study indicate that cross-border poaching by hunters from neighboring
nations—chiefly Cameroon to the north—largely drove the precipitous
Poulsen and his colleagues published their peer-reviewed findings Feb.
20 in the journal Current Biology.
They estimated the extent of the population losses by comparing data
from two large-scale surveys of elephant dung in Minkébé National Park
from 2004 and 2014, using two different analytic methods to account
for periods of heavy rainfall that might speed the dung‘s decay and
skew the surveys‘ accuracy.
“Based on changes in the abundance and geographic distribution of the
dung, we identified two fronts of poaching pressure,” Poulsen said.
“Elephant numbers in the south of the park, which is 58 kilometers
from the nearest major Gabonese road, have been somewhat reduced,” he
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.”
The proximity of this road makes it relatively easy for Cameroonese
poachers to access the park and transport their illegal haul back to
their nation‘s largest city, Douala, a major hub of the international
Since 2011, the Gabonese government has taken major steps to curb
poaching in Minkébé, Poulsen noted. Among other things, they have
elevated forest elephants‘ conservation status to “fully protected,”
created a National Park Police force, doubled the agency‘s budget, and
become the first African nation to burn all confiscated ivory.
These efforts are laudable and may be reducing poaching from within
Gabon, Poulsen said, but the new research suggests they have done
little to slow the illegal cross-border traffic. “The clock is
ticking,” he said.
“To save Central Africa‘s , we need to create new multinational
protected areas and coordinate international law enforcement to ensure
the prosecution of foreign nationals who commit or encourage wildlife
crimes in other countries,” he said.
“Studies showing sharp declines in forest elephant populations are
nothing new,” he said, “but a 78 to 81 percent loss in a single decade
from one of the largest, most remote protected areas in Central Africa
is a startling warning that no place is safe from poaching.”