Reuters Mike Hutchings
Growing threats from poaching and declining habitats are increasing the vulnerability of elephants in Africa, according to a report released Thursday by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The number of African forest elephants has decreased by more than 86 percent in 31 years, while the number of savannah elephants has decreased by more than 60 percent in 50 years, according to the federation.
There are currently 415,000 elephants in Africa, including forest and savannah elephants.
The report also indicates that savannah elephants prefer open plains, and are found in various habitats across sub-Saharan Africa, with more concentrations in Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Smaller African forest elephants occupy tropical forests in the western and central continent, with the largest numbers in Gabon and the Republic of the Congo.
“In Gabon, the fight against elephant poaching is more than just a fight for nature, it is for the stability of our country,” Gabonese Minister of Water and Forests Lee White told The Associated Press.
He added, “We have seen countries where fishermen have become bandits and insurgents, as is the case in the Central African Republic. They have destabilized the entire country.”
White said most of the poaching and ivory smuggling are being driven by international gangs across the border.
He added, “80 to 90 percent of ivory goes to Nigeria and ends up financing Boko Haram rebels. Therefore, it is a largely cross-border battle against organized crime and even against terrorism.”
He also mentioned that the battle to protect the forest elephants in Gabon was tantamount to a “war”.
For his part, Rudi Van Ardy, a professor in the Department of Zoology at the University of Pretoria, said, “The criminal networks that work with corrupt officials are a big problem in Central and West Africa.”