Decline of African Elephants
All African elephants – savannah and forest species – now, in even optimistic estimates, stand at populations of around 500,000 at the most and falling, from around 10 million African elephants before the decline of the last two centuries. That is a 95% loss of the gardeners of the forest which have cultivated the ecosystem upon which even our own existence depends on a global environmental scale.
Poaching for ivory and bushmeat
The forest elephant population has declined by approximately 95% due to the advent of modern firearms. As a result, the escalation of elephant poaching has risen to an unprecedented scale. This decline affects the elephants ability to maintain the health and ecology of their natural habitat to the benefit of us all.
The results of the PLOS ONE study (2013) demonstrate a widespread and catastrophic decline in numbers of forest elephants, with a decline of 62% between 2002-2011, and a corresponding range contraction of approximately 30% in the same period.
Around 50% of all surviving forest elephants are now in Gabon, despite Gabon only covering 13% of the total forest area of the region, and an estimated less than 20% of the remaining forest elephant populations may in the Democratic Republic of Congo, despite this country covering 62% of Central Africa’s forests.
Considering this 2002-2011 contraction of elephant range in respect of habitat per country, around 95% of the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the largest countries in Africa and the epicentre of Africa’s tropical rainforest eco-system is likely to be almost empty of elephants. Given its size and forest-density, DRC would have had the highest populations of forest elephants on earth, prior to the elephant decimation of the last two centuries.
In February 2013, the Gabonese government announced the loss of at least half of the elephants in Minkébé National Park – and Gabon has the largest population of surviving forest elephants and even there they continue to disappear at rates that indicate complete eradication within the next two decades.
Cause of the decline
The cause of this decline and the persistence of the ivory poaching eradicating forest elephants is multi-limbed. The PLOS ONE study of 2013 on forest elephant decline, emphasised the combination of the rapid increase in demand for ivory in China and its ease of sale there, together with the lack of effective governance in Central Africa and the unprecedented access for poachers to the depths of the forests via unprotected roads, such roads a by-product of the timber industry which itself results in elephant habitat destruction. Conservation efforts to save forest elephants and their habitat will therefore necessarily be multi-limbed and comprehensive in its scope.