Poachers have killed 80 per cent of Gabon’s forest elephants

In dieci anni, tra il 2004 e il 2014, in Gabon i bracconieri hanno ucciso oltre 25mila elefanti, mettendo a serio rischio la sopravvivenza della specie.

African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are some of the world’s most loved and charismatic animals. Yet, we still know little about the extraordinary sensitivity and cognitive abilities of these giants, which are able to sense storms from miles away, among other things. Their mysterious brain (whose number of neurons is three times that of humans) could remain unknown, as the species faces extinction due to the illegal ivory trade.

Esemplare di elefante africano
According to the Great Elephant Census, more than 27,000 elephants are killed for their tusks every year © Dai Kurokawa/Epa/Ansa

Gabon’s forest elephants have been decimated

Elephants in Gabon are going through a critical moment. According to a research carried out by a group of researchers of the Duke University and published in the journal Current Biology, 25,000 forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) have been killed between 2004 and 2014. Forest elephants are smaller than Savannah elephants, and Gabon is their last stronghold. In just 10 years, the population of forest elephants in Gabon’s Minkebe National Park decreased by 80 per cent.

Forest elephants are some of the world’s mammals with the slowest reproduction rate. And poaching could represent the finishing blow © Daniel Irungu/Epa/Ansa

Ivory and blood

Elephants are poached for their precious tusks. According to the IUCN, their population has decreased by 20 per cent between 2006 and 2015 and today accounts for 415,000 individuals. China’s recent announcement of a ban on its ivory trade by 2017 could represent a turning point for elephant conservation, before it’s too late.

“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,” said John Poulsen, assistant professor of tropical ecology at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

Branco di elefanti di savana
African elephants live in matriarchal groups, led by an old female individual © Ansa

Conservation efforts must be intensified

In order to reverse this worrying trend and save elephants from poachers, conservation efforts need to be intensified. The study’s authors suggest that “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”. Also, they called on the international community to urge countries to ban the ivory trade. Most importantly, education programmes must show local populations that elephants are worth more when alive.

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