World Elephant Day 2014: ‘Gardeners of the forest’ under threat from illegal poaching

Forest Elephant
Endangered subspecies of elephant known as the ‘gardener of the forest’ is being driven to extinction by poachers

The elephants of the forests of Cameroon Africa, a distinct subspecies known as the ‘gardeners of the forest’, are being killed in their thousands by illegal poachers.

African ‘forest elephants’ play a crucial role in maintaining the ecosystem of the Congo Basin by keeping open trails, digging pools and spreading seed. All other forest users are dependent on the subspecies’ “management” and without them the forest would be a very different place.

Populations of forest elephants found in Central Africa, including Cameroon, are under an even greater threat than other African elephants and are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered.

The single biggest threat to this charismatic species is poaching for the illegal ivory trade:



1989 – Moratorium on ivory trade

1990s – Poaching levels fell

2000s - Poaching started to increase again, peaking in 2010

2013 – Over 20,000 elephants were killed illegally for ivory – a level of killing that exceeds the birth rate.


Central Africa was thought to hold the biggest populations of African elephant up to the 1970s. These have collapsed in the face of poaching. In the 10 years up to 2011 they crashed by an estimated 62% and the ivory poachers are still targeting those that are left.

The forest elephants found in the south east of Cameroon are a priority for conservation efforts – protecting them is crucial if we are to avoid the African elephant going extinct in the wild over the coming decades.

ZSL conservationist Paul DeOrnellas said:

‘Populations of forest elephant in central Africa have suffered massive declines in the face of rampant poaching for ivory, estimated at more than 60% over the last decade. Urgent action against traffickers is needed if we are to arrest this decline and secure a future for these remarkable animals’

The Cameroon government signed up to the London declaration on illegal wildlife trade in February 2014 committing them to take action to control ivory trafficking that is devastating elephant populations.

The work of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and others is helping support Cameroon’s efforts to meet its commitments and secure a future for the African Elephant.

ZSL has been working with the timber sector in Cameroon to help protect forest elephants since 2008 and in 2013 ZSL secured funding from the IUCN SOS fund to expand this work with the Cameroon government to protect the elephants of the Dja Biosphere Reserve – a UNESCO world heritage site and stronghold for the African Elephant, threatened by poaching.


Find out more about ZSL’s work with forest elephants


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