African forest elephant conservation in West and Central Africa
In West and Central Africa, there is a growing need to address elephant conservation. The forest elephant populations here are more highly threatened than the savannah elephant of East and Southern Africa.
The IUCN Red List classes the central African forest elephants as being endangered and threatened with extinction. ZSL has had a presence in this area for many years and is in the process of expanding our existing work to help protect this iconic species.
Forest elephants are distinguishable from their savannah cousins by their smaller stature, downward pointing straight tusks, round ears and extra toenail on each foot. They live in small social groups and are considered ecological engineers; species whose day-to-day activities play an essential role in maintaining the structure and function of the forest ecosystem.
Surprisingly, for such a large animal little is known about their exact population size and distribution. What is known is that the forest elephant is under severe pressure; directly through poaching for their meat and ivory and indirectly as a result of increasing human activities.
Infrastructure development, agriculture and the expansion of extractive industries like logging and mining all cause loss and fragmentation of elephant habitat. Reduced habitat also brings elephants and humans into closer proximity, often resulting in conflict as elephants move beyond the safety of protected area boundaries.
ZSL’s work to conserve Africa’s forest elephants focuses on gaining a better understanding of the elephants’ status and distribution as well as identifying and mitigating areas of conflict with people. A priority area in where we are currently engaged in forest elephant conservation is Djoua-Zadie-Mwagna of north east Gabon.
Elsewhere our work involves a combination of rapid assessment surveys and cutting edge research in partnership with timber companies – such as in our Wildlife Wood Project – to identify elephant movement patterns deep within the forest.
This knowledge has already helped us to identify priority areas of High Conservation Value in Cameroon in the form of migration corridors on which forest elephants rely to move between patches of forest as the seasons change.
Work with local communities to address the realities of conflict between people and elephants is essential if we are to help not just the elephants but also those impacted by the crop-raiding, property damage, and personal safety risks that can affect people living amongst these forest giants.
As elephants are not aware of state boundaries when they move, work with national governments to develop transboundary strategies for forest elephant conservation is a priority in areas such as Cameroon-Equatorial Guinea-Gabon in Central Africa and Sierra Leone-Guinea-Liberia in the West of the continent.
It will only be by working in partnership from national governments right down to local communities and through bringing together seemingly diverse groups like protected area managers and timber companies that we can build the capacity for conservation in West and Central Africa to secure a future for the remarkable forest elephant.