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Ranger patrols save forest elephants in Central Africa
WCS’s decades-long work has successfully secured strongholds for forest elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, buffalo, bongo, okapi, and other ungulates across the Congo Basin. Where WCS has supported SMART ecoguard patrols, elephants are 7 times more abundant when compared to other forest areas that were not patrolled. In WCS landscapes within the Republic of Congo, elephant populations have been stable. This is not the case in other areas where elephants continue to be slaughtered by well-armed, criminal gangs of ivory poachers. Where WCS works in Central Africa, we have not only stopped the killing we have demonstrated that SMART ecoguard patrolling is an effective tool to do so.
Recent industrial-scale commodity production in Central Africa (logging, mining and vast agricultural plantations) has created a network of roads providing easy access to previously remote areas. Roads and the rising price of ivory has resulted in an explosion of elephant poaching in Central Africa. Recognizing the importance of law enforcement, WCS has for decades been helping to establish and strengthen the management of the elephant strongholds in the region. Equipping and training ecoguard teams and helping them to tactically plan their patrols is key to discouraging poachers and stopping the slaughter of elephants and other wildlife. To assess the impacts of these conservation investments on forest elephants and other wildlife, WCS with our national and international partners, conducted,80 surveys across the vast Central African forests, covering 13,000 km and investing 91,600 person-days of fieldwork. Our range-wide analysis revealed the shocking decade-long decline in forest elephants, spurring an international effort to stop the trade. Most importantly our sound science proved that elephants can remain safe where ecoguards are vigilantly conducting regular patrols over most of the forest.
Our surveys over a decade show that 65% of African forest elephants were butchered for their ivory between 2002 and 2013. The forest elephant population is now less than 10% of its historical size, and occupies less than 25% of its historical geographic range. This negative trend has not occurred in national parks where WCS works in the region. In Nouable-Ndoki National Park (Republic of Congo) repeated surveys have shown that elephant numbers have remained stable, at around 2,400 individuals, since 2006. Elephant numbers are also stable in Odzala-Kokoua National Park (Congo) where the population has remained at about 8,000. In Conkouati-Douli National Park (Gabon) elephant numbers have been increasing to just under 1,000, thanks to WCS’ efforts.
Where there was effective anti-poaching effort by WCS, elephant density was seven times higher than in unprotected areas.
Publication of our elephant survey results in a scientific paper and subsequently in an op-ed in the New York Times got the attention of conservationists around the world and most importantly Chelsea Clinton. Together WCS and the Clinton Global Initiative shone a spotlight on the plight of elephants leading to the creation of the 96 Elephants partnership--named after the horrific daily death rate of all elephants across the African continent (96elephants.org). Its 200 collaborating organizations and over 700,000 individual “elephant advocates” have campaigned successfully for bans on domestic ivory markets in New York, New Jersey, Washington and California, as well encouraging the U.S. government to strengthen federal restrictions on inter-state ivory trade. 96 Elephants successfully put a halt to ivory on the popular Antiques Road Show, and a ban on the sale of ivory and other protected species items on Craiglist. On September 25th, 2015, both China and the USA - the two largest world markets for illegal ivory - said they would enact a nearly complete ban on the import and export of ivory. Raw ivory prices dropped by half between mid-2014 and the end of 2015, most likely as a result of bans on ivory sales.
An elephant “planted” this new forest—without elephants the forest cannot renew itself and stay healthy.
A decade of surveys across Central Africa showed that where ecoguards are actively on patrol elephants are protected from poachers.
Where ecoguard patrols are active, elephants are protected from poachers and are seven times as numerous compared to places that lack guards.
When elephant matriarchs are killed by poachers the herd loses valuable knowledge of where to find the best food and water sources at different times of the year.
U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell enthusiastically watched as WCS and 96 Elephant partner organizations crushed more than 1 ton of illegal ivory in Times Square, New York on June 19, 2015.