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Poach­ers kill over 11,000 ele­phants in Gabon

pub­lished 07 Feb­ru­ary 2013 | mod­i­fied 07 Feb­ru­ary 2013

Elephant skeleton gabonA new study con­firms what has been long sus­pected: ele­phant pop­u­la­tions are being dec­i­mated to the point that the sur­vival of the species in Cen­tral Africa is now in ques­tion.

Accord­ing to a study by the Gabonese National Parks Agency, WWF and the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety (WCS), poach­ers have killed an esti­mated 11,100 ele­phants — between 44 to 77 per­cent­age of the pop­u­la­tion –in parts of Minkébé’s National Park and its sur­round­ings in north­ern Gabon since 2004, when it held Africa’s largest for­est ele­phant pop­u­la­tion.

The sit­u­a­tion is out of con­trol. We are wit­ness­ing the sys­tem­atic slaugh­ter of the world’s largest land mam
Bas Hui­jbregts, head of the Cen­tral African strand of WWF’s global cam­paign against ille­gal wildlife trade »

Some reports lead the world to believe that the ivory war has moved from the Cen­tral Africa region to other parts of the con­ti­nent. This is wrong. What has changed is that these crim­i­nals are now also attack­ing the bet­ter pro­tected ele­phant herds in East­ern and South­ern Africa. But here in Cen­tral Africa, unno­ticed to the world, ele­phants are los­ing this war at light­ning speed.”

A regional cri­sis
Fiona Maisels, a con­ser­va­tion sci­en­tist at WCS who has been analysing the sur­vey data, said that the data pointed to a regional cri­sis.

The Minkébé data are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of trends across all remain­ing for­est ele­phant strong­holds in the region, not to speak of the Demo­c­ra­tic Repub­lic of the Congo, which is believed to hold 7,000 to 10,000 ele­phants, or less than ten per cent of its pop­u­la­tion twenty years ago.”

Gabon, Maisels explained, rep­re­sents only about 13% of the forests of Cen­tral Africa but is home to over half of Africa’s for­est ele­phants. The Minkébé National Park, in turn, is home to Gabon’s biggest ele­phant pop­u­la­tion and to prob­a­bly the largest for­est ele­phant pop­u­la­tion in Africa. “At least until these data came out,” she said.

Over in in the Cen­tral African Repub­lic (CAR) — which in the mid 1980’s held up to 80,000 ele­phants — poach­ers are tak­ing advan­tage of the polit­i­cal insta­bil­ity to wipe out the country’s remain­ing ele­phant, which can now num­ber in the thou­sands.

Speak­ing from Bayanga in south­west CAR, Guian Zokoe, who is in charge of the Dzanga-​Sangha Pro­tected Areas for the CAR Min­istry of Water and Forests, says poach­ers have killed at least 17 ele­phants around the Ngotto for­est in the south of the coun­try in the past few days. Uncon­firmed reports by vil­lagers hint that some sixty ele­phants were also killed fur­ther north, near the town of Yaloke, he said, adding there were reports of killings through­out the coun­try.

“The Cen­tral African Republic’s new gov­ern­ment has to send its armed forces to stop these poach­ers before they hit its last ele­phant strong­hold, Dzanga-​Sangha, a recently declared World Her­itage Site. It is not just a ques­tion of pro­tect­ing CAR’s nat­ural resources, but of stop­ping these armed groups from waltz­ing around the coun­try and ter­ror­is­ing local pop­u­la­tions wher­ever they go,” Zokoe added.

How to end poach­ing
Although solu­tions to effec­tively address the poach­ing cri­sis in the region are var­ied, what can be con­cluded is clear: left unad­dressed, Cen­tral Africa’s ele­phants will fol­low the foot­step of their west­ern black and north­ern white rhi­noc­er­oses, both hunted to extinc­tion.

Gov­ern­ments in the region such as Cameroon, Chad and Gabon are recruit­ing more rangers and send their armies to fight these poach­ers. But that is not enough,” Hui­jbregts says. “The inter­na­tional intel­li­gence com­mu­nity needs to get involved in this fight as soon as pos­si­ble, in order to iden­tify, track and put out of busi­ness these global crim­i­nal net­works, which cor­rupt gov­ern­ments, erode national secu­rity and ham­per eco­nomic devel­op­ment prospects.”

But Hui­jbregts explained that to effec­tively put an end to the poach­ing cri­sis, coun­tries in in East Asia would need to address their explod­ing demand for ivory, which is result­ing in record prices. “Unless the gov­ern­ments of the region and demand coun­tries treat this issue as an inter­na­tional emer­gency we can­not rule out that, in our life­time, there will no longer be any viable ele­phant pop­u­la­tions in Cen­tral Africa,” Hui­jbregts said.

Mas­sive quan­ti­ties of ille­gal African ivory are being laun­dered through Thai shops.
To save Africa’s ele­phants it is essen­tial that Thai­land closes this legal loop­hole. Join us in ask­ing Thai Prime Min­is­ter Yingluck Shi­nawa­tra to ban all ivory trade in Thai­land.

(Source: WWF News & Sto­ries, 06.02.2013)
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Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

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