By Kevin Heath
In March last year a paper published on Plos One demonstrated the impacts of poaching on Central Africa’s elephants. The paper highlighted that in just 10 years – between 2002 and 2011 – 62% of the forest elephants had been killed. At today’s wildlife symposium in London those figures have been updated to include the years 2012 and 2013.
The latest figures show that the situation in central and east Africa has not changed with a forest elephant being killed every 20 minutes. The new figures show that 65% of forest elephants have been lost since 2002 at a rate of over 9% per year.
The research highlights that just 10% of the numbers of elephants that central and east African forests can support are living. Only 25% of the forests that elephants were previously found in still have living populations of elephants. But some countries fair far worse than others.
The DR Congo is a mammoth country that dominates the region. At one time it used to house the largest populations of elephants in the region but no more. The country with the strongest elephant population is Gabon, a small country but now it is now home to 60% of the world’s forest elephant population.
“These new numbers showing the continuing decline of the African forest elephant are the exact reason why there is a sense of urgency at the United for Wildlife trafficking symposium in London this week,” said Dr. John Robinson, World Conservation Society (WCS) Chief Conservation Officer and Executive Vice President of Conservation and Science. “The solutions we are discussing in London this week and the commitments we are making cannot fail or the African forest elephant will blink out in our lifetime.”
Dr. Fiona Maisels of WCS, one of the researchers releasing the new numbers and a co-author of the landmark paper, explained, “At least a couple of hundred thousand forest elephants were lost between 2002-2013 to the tune of at least sixty a day, or one every twenty minutes, day and night. By the time you eat breakfast, another elephant has been slaughtered to produce trinkets for the ivory market.”
Historically, the enormous Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) would have held the largest number of forest elephants. “The current number and distribution of elephants is mind-boggling when compared to what it should be,” said WCS’s Dr. Samantha Strindberg, one of the co-authors. “About 95 percent of the forests of DRC are almost empty of elephants“.