Forest Elephants in Rapid Decline

Forest elephants are being poached at unprecedented rates
Forest elephants are being poached at unprecedented rates

New evidence reveals that the conservation crisis for African elephants is widespread, and is decimating two species.  The worsening situation for Savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana) was recently chronicled in National Geographic’s story on “Blood Ivory“.  Sadly, the less-well-known Forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis), are faring even worse. 

A new study, just published in PLOS ONE, documents a “devastating” decline in the numbers of Forest elephants in Central Africa.  Between 2002 and 2011 the population was reduced by 62%.  Poaching for ivory, along with habitat reduction, has resulted in a situation where “The population is now less than 10% of its potential size,
occupying less than 25% of its potential range.”, according to the authors.

Forest elephant juveniles
Forest elephant juveniles

Forest and Savanna elephants have many similarities.  However, Forest elephants are smaller and their tusks point downwards as an adaptation associated with living in a denser habitat.  Savanna elephants have a much greater range, and a far larger population across the continent.  Neither species is being spared as the slaughter for ivory accelerates.  The authors of the study are clear in their assessment, “To save the remaining African forest elephants, illegal poaching for ivory and encroachment into core elephant habitat must be stopped. In addition, the international demand for ivory, which fuels illegal trade, must be dramatically reduced.”

Other experts believe that the only solution is a complete ban on the ivory trade.  A new report from CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) documents the fact that stockpiles of ivory – whether legal or illegal – are facilitating the trade in poached ivory. 

Stock piles of illegal ivory

Since 2007, the CITES report documents that the illegal trade in ivory has more than doubled.  In 2011 alone, approximately 17,000 elephants were killed for their ivory. 

As reported by CNN, China remains the single largest consumer of ivory, by far.  Related to that is the fact that Chinese officials are making more seizures of illegal ivory than any other country.  Over 6 tons (worth more than 6 million US) have been confiscated in the last 6 months.

Significant coverage of the ivory issue is not limited to national media outlets.  The Des Moines Register has published a story addressing the issue, including a plea from a local conservationist asking President Obama to do “everything in his power to address the crisis.”. 

Male Forest Elephant
Male Forest Elephant

The radius of empathy for elephants is increasing, yet the slaughter continues at unprecedented rates.  The killing must be stopped – at least slowed – until the Asian appetite for ivory ends.  This will require innovation in conservation methods as well as educational outreach.


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