While the study shows that unmanaged roads are clearly detrimental to forest elephants, it also found that protected areas are critical to elephant survival. Even in protected areas with road access, incidents of poached animals dropped off, while the overall abundance of elephants increased dramatically. For example, in Gabons Minkb National Park and its buffer zone, the largest wilderness area remaining in the Congo basin, an estimated 22,000 elephants may survive. The authors note, however, that logging roads are quickly eating into this last great elephant territory. Even in war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, protected areas are proving to be the last strongholds for elephants, despite decades of poaching.
The study is the first major scientific survey of forest elephants since 1989, when their population was estimated at approximately 170,000 individuals. Since then, no further region-wide surveys have been made, despite dramatic increases in logging, road building, and human populations, not to mention civil unrest that often leads to increases in poaching and other illegal activities.
The authors state that forest elephants will continue to decline unless immediate actions are successfully implemented. A region-wide approach to conservation in the remaining elephant strongholds is needed to both halt the spread of poaching and control settlement and range fragmentation associated with road development. The authors further warn that the illegal ivory trade must be brought under control i
Contact: Stephen Sautner
Wildlife Conservation Society