Elephants in Comoë National Park in northern Ivory Coast
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Ivory Coast, named for its elephants, once had one of the largest elephant populations in West Africa. But now the country’s elephant numbers are in rapid decline.
Sery Gonedelé Bi at the University Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, and his colleagues surveyed 25 protected forest areas across the country between 2011 and 2017. They also analysed media reports and records of conflicts between humans and elephants.
Based on their results, the researchers estimate that there are only 225 forest elephants left in Ivory Coast – a decline of 86 per cent since a survey conducted in 1994.
Estimates suggest that about a century ago, the population of forest elephants numbered between 3000 and 5000, says Gonedelé.
Based on dung counts, the team confirmed the presence of elephants in only four of the 25 protected areas they surveyed. Habitat degradation is a likely factor that has driven the decline in population.
Despite its protected status, the team found that of the 360,000 hectares the 25 forests cover, 71 per cent has been cleared.
Much of the cleared land has been transformed into plantations, mostly for cocoa, says Gonedelé. More than half of the 25 areas have been completely converted to farms and human settlements.
Previous analysis has shown that an estimated 265,000 hectares of forest are cleared in the country every year – the highest deforestation rate in sub-Saharan Africa.
The researchers found that the four protected areas with remaining elephant populations received more protection from conservation staff than the other 21, which don’t receive any tangible wildlife management.
“We need to reinforce protections where elephants still live,” says Gonedelé.
The researchers believe that without immediate action to safeguard still-existing populations, such as ranger patrolling and law enforcement, forest elephants will go extinct in Ivory Coast
Journal reference: PLOS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0232993
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