Happy World Wildlife Day, (3rd March 2016)! This year’s theme is “The future of wildlife in our hands” with a focus on African and Asian elephants.
Therefore, we wanted to take this opportunity to join conservationists around the world in shining a spotlight on elephants. This blog focuses on the current crisis facing Africa’s forest elephants, which seem to receive far less media attention and conservation support than Africa’s better-known and larger savanna elephants.
There are two sub-species of African elephant: the Savanna elephant and the Forest elephant. The latter is smaller and darker in colour and lives in densely forested parts of Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Cameroon and the Central African Republic in central Africa and Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Ghana in West Africa. Despite bans on ivory trade dating back to the 1990s, a recent study shows that 62 per cent of Africa’s forest elephants were killed between 2002 and 2011 (Maisels et al., 2013). The population is now less than 10% of its potential size, occupying less than 25% of its potential range (ibid).
Upemba National Park offers a prime example of the crisis facing Africa’s forest elephants today. It lies in Katanga Province (a region almost the size of Spain) in southeastern DRC and covers 1.2 million hectares. It was created in 1939 to protect elephants, lechwe, hippos and zebra. In a region heavily impacted by mining and conflict, it has provided a relatively safe haven for the last remaining forest elephant populations in Katanga. Habitats within the park have remained largely intact to date and rangers report regularly on the abundance of wildlife such as hippos, buffalo and lions, as well as fish in the lakes and rivers of the park.
We have been told by colleagues working in the DRC that if urgent and necessary measures are not taken, the last elephants of Katanga will soon be gone.
The threats facing Upemba National Park’s forest elephants are not unique. African forest elephants typically live in remote, dense forests, sometimes where conflict is taking place, or where armed groups are present. This, combined with a lack of funding for on-the-ground conservation, can make these animals difficult to monitor and protect.
If you would like to know more about how you can help forest elephants and other species living in African forests, please contact us.