It seems that the opening up of forests by roads for logging companies could be leading to the demise of forest elephants in West Africa, according to a study published by a team of scientists the World Conservation Society (WCS). They trekked over 8000km through the African forest to take a census of elephant numbers.
Counting forest elephants is not an easy business – partly as dense forest means that you can’t just fly over the area to spot and count them unlike their savannah dwelling cousins, and also because you don’t want to get too close to the elephants as they are well known to be aggressive. So instead the research team searched for clues that the elephants left behind in the forest – the most reliable being their dung.
Worryingly they found very low numbers, with less than one elephant in each sq km of forest. More concerning is that they found less dung close to the roads. These roads have been built penetrating further and further into the forests to allow timber companies access to the valuable trees. Instead of finding evidence for live elephants close to roads, they actually found more carcasses with their tusks removed. This suggests that these roads bring not just the logging companies but also elephant poachers that come for the ivory and the meat.
Trading ivory is banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) but since 2004 prices have quadrupled – it is now worth over $850 /kg. Sadly this continuing demand for ivory could lead to these incredible creatures being wiped out.