The loss of 5,000 forest elephants to poachers in northern Republic of Congo over the past five years makes protected areas for Africa’s dwindling wildlife more important than ever, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Conservationists recommend that guard strength in northern Congo’s Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, where elephant numbers have remained stable, should be doubled immediately to protect the park’s estimated 2,300 individuals. In addition, protection should be bolstered just outside the protected area where 4,000 elephants remain in the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified logging concessions and swamps patrolled by forest guards.
Steve Sanderson, WCS President and CEO, said, “This conservation crisis means that Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park and its surrounding lands must be turned into a bastion of hope for forest elephants. We must do all we can to ensure that these magnificent animals remain safe from poachers.”
The successful protection of Nouabalé-Ndoki—which covers an area larger than the state of Rhode Island—is unusual in Central Africa’s Congo Basin rainforest. Reports of elephant slaughter across the region, and increasingly large and frequent seizures of ivory in transit to Asia, suggest that the decline in areas around the park represent what is happening across Central Africa.
“The forces of illegal wildlife trade are decimating forest elephants in the Republic of Congo and across Central Africa,” said Dr. Paul Telfer, Director of WCS’s Republic of Congo Program. “The remaining populations of forest elephants in protected areas such as Nouabalé-Ndoki are becoming the last strongholds for the entire species.”
Recent elephant counts paint a grim picture. Overall, the numbers of elephants in the entire area surveyed (27,000 square kilometers or just over 10,000 square miles) have dropped from almost 13,000 individuals in 2006 to approximately 6,300 in 2011, a total decrease of more than 50 percent. The areas around the park in which elephants have been killed include unallocated swaths of forest and swamp habitat, community reserves, and logging concessions. Without guards in the logging concessions as part of long-term conservation efforts there, forest elephants outside the park would have likely disappeared by now.
The illegal ivory trade drives the precipitous decline of forest elephants in the Republic of Congo and across the Congo Basin. Part of a huge wave of international organized crime that links trafficking in humans, wildlife, and drugs and weapons, the illegal ivory trade delivers big payoffs to ivory traffickers at all levels along the chain. Other factors contributing to the slaughter of elephants include access to formerly impenetrable tracts of rainforest through new roads in the region and the proliferation of arms such as AK-47 rifles. It is now recognized that even well-protected areas in Africa are under enormous pressure and must be better protected immediately.
James Deutsch, Executive Director of WCS’s Africa Programs, added: “For twenty years we’ve been partnering with the Government of Congo, local communities, and logging companies to protect this region’s extraordinary natural heritage, including elephants. Until now, the result has been one of Africa’s greatest conservation success stories. But the pressure from elephant poachers and ivory traffickers has become huge, and the elephants’ future, both in the park and in the surrounding area, now hangs in the balance. We need to redouble our efforts.”
Support for the management and protection of Nouabalé -Ndoki National Park is provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation, the Sangha Trinational Foundation, German Development Bank (KfW), French Development Bank (AFD), Spain-UNEP LifeWeb, and others.
The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes towards nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth. Visit www.wcs.org.If you would like to make donations in support of helping save wildlife and wild places, please go to wcs.org.