Elephants Poached in Gabon's National Park
Earlier this month the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced that Gabon's Minkebe Park has lost over 11,000 elephants due to poaching. Gabon contains over half of Africa's forest elephants, with a population estimated at over 40,000, however with this recent drop, WCS scientists confirm that Africa's largest elephant population has been cut in half during the past ten years.
Elephants are poached mainly for their ivory, which has been an important part of Asian art for over a thousand years. Ivory can also be carved and used in everything from billiard balls to piano keys. Besides the ivory trade, elephants are poached for their meat and hide and even for entertainment.
"This sad news from Gabon confirms that without a global commitment, great elephant populations will soon become a thing of the past," said WCS President and CEO Cristián Samper. "We believe that elephants can still be saved — but only if nations greatly increase their efforts to stop poaching while eliminating the illegal ivory trade through better enforcement and reduced demand."
Until recently, Gabon's elephant herds were believed to be less impacted by poaching than in other parts of Africa, however, Gabon's National Park Agency reported an increase in poaching, including the 2011 slaughter of 27 elephants in a protected area just outside of the capitol.
So if this national park is supposedly protected, how and why is poaching still occurring?
One reason is the demand for ivory in the Far East. With low supply and high demand, prices for ivory go up, leading to more aggressive poaching. Also, in June 2011, a significant increase in human activity in the Minkebe National Park was detected. A small camp of gold miners had expanded to over 5,000 miners, poachers, and arms and drugs dealers.
Since the survey results were announced, Gabon has stepped up its anti-poaching efforts seizing 20 tusks in the nation's capitol and arresting poachers who had illegally entered the country from neighboring Cameroon. Gabon's National Park staff recently engaged in a firefight with armed poachers in Minkebe National Park after arresting two individuals carrying six tusks, which makes elephant protection a dangerous game.
Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba announced that Gabon will pass new legislation to further dissuade commercial ivory poachers by increasing prison terms to a minimum of three years for ivory poachers and 15 years for poaching and ivory trafficking involving organized crime.
Read more at the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Elephant image via Shutterstock.