Central African Elephants Losing the Battle at Lightning Speed
“The situation is out of control. We are witnessing the systematic slaughter of the world’s largest mammal.”
These are the words of Bas Huijbregts, who leads the Central African strand of the WWF global campaign against illegal wildlife trade, in a WWF article reporting the illegal killings of 11,000 elephants in Gabon.
According to a study recently released by WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and the Gabonese National Parks Agency, poachers are responsible for the killings of an estimated 11,100 elephants in parts of Minkébé’s National Park and other surrounding areas in northern Gabon since 2004. The area had once held Africa’s largest forest elephant population, but the killings amounted to the decimation of between 44 to 77 percent of the elephant population.
Huijbregts points out that misconceptions regarding the ivory war in Central Africa may have risen because of some reports drawing attention to increased attacks in Eastern and Southern Africa.
“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.”
The majority of elephant population loss in Gabon is thought to have occurred over the last five years, according to the study. A series of poaching incidents including two major massacres contradicted the assumption of Gabon’s elephant population herd declining at a slower pace than it really was. 27 elephant bodies were left to rot in the Wonga Wongué Wildlife Reserve savannahs after poachers killed them and used chain saws to remove their tusks in April of 2011. Park staff discovered the carcasses and estimated that several hundred more were concealed in the rain forests of the area.
An unusual increase in human activity in the Minkébé National Park and grounding buffer zones in June 2011 was suspected to have been connected with illegal hunting and poaching activities in the area. Park authorities estimated elephant killings (between 50 to 100) to have occurred daily as a small mining camp grew from 300 artisanal gold miners to over 5000 miners, poachers, and arms and drug dealers.
A series of arrests and seizure of ivory tusks about to be illegally moved out of the country provide evidence of suspected heavy losses in Minkébé’s elephant population.
Governments in Gabon, Cameroon, Chad, and other regions have responded to the crisis by recruiting more parks staff and rangers to strengthen their forces in the fight against illegal killings of elephants. After setting Gabon’s entire seized stockpile of ivory on fire, President Ali Bongo Ondimba declared in June of 2012 that Gabon has zero tolerance for wildlife crime. Increased efforts against the illegal wildlife trade are critical not only for the conservation of the world’s largest mammal but also for the safety of local populations as well.
Guian Zokoe, of the Dzanga-Sangha Protected Areas for the CAR Ministry of Water and Forests, said
“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 terrorizing local populations wherever they go.”
Huijbregts implores the international community to join in the fight against illegal wildlife hunting and trade.
“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.”
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