Okapi World Heritage Site loses 37% of elephants in 5 years

elephant tusks okapi

Guards from the Okapi Faunal Reserve with confiscated elephant tusks. (Photo credit: Okapi Conservation Projet)

Surveys conduction by wildlife officials from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) and Wildlife conservation society (WCS) in the Okapi Forest Reserve highlights depressing news for the forest elephants of the World Heritage Site. In the last 15 years the forest has lost 75% of its elephants and in the last 5 years alone the elephant population has dropped by 37%.

Officials are particularly concerned at the levels of losses in the Okapi Forest Reserve because it is considered by conservationists to be the best protected and managed park in DR Congo. There is a concern that is elephant poaching continues at the current levels then the DR Congo could lose its elephant population within 10 years. [pullquote]The global poaching crisis for elephants is at epidemic proportions. The world must come together to recognize this problem and to stop the killing, trafficking, and demand, or we will lose elephants in the wild in our lifetime.[/pullquote]

The Okapi Forest Reserve is in a dangerous part of the world. Even though the Congo civil war ended 5 years ago there region is still highly dangerous. Despite the dangers the forest guards of the Okapi Forest Reserve have managed to reduce the elephant killings from 400 a year to about 170 a year. This success has come at a cost though.

One of the most prolific poachers and local warlord Paul ‘Morgan’ Sadala launched a devastating attack on the ranger headquarters in the park last year because of the success of the rangers. The station was destroyed, rangers and families killed and local people taken hostage.

 The latest survey indicates that over the last 15 years 5,100 elephants in the reserve has been killed which equates to 75% of the sites population. The last census of the parks elephant population was undertaken in 2007 when the population was counted at 2,700.  Since then it is estimated that 37% of the elephants have been lost through poaching.

The forest elephants of Africa are particularly sought after by poachers because their tusks are more valuable than other elephant species. The ivory from forest elephants is straighter and more hard-wearing allowing the ivory to be more intricately carved. The ivory also has a natural pink sheen to it which increases it attractiveness in carvings.

The global poaching crisis for elephants is at epidemic proportions,” said WCS Executive Vice President for Conservation and Science John Robinson. “The world must come together to recognize this problem and to stop the killing, trafficking, and demand, or we will lose elephants in the wild in our lifetime.

James Deutsch, WCS Executive Director for Africa Programs said: “We salute our partners at ICCN for their dedication and commitment to protect wildlife under the most difficult circumstances. We remain stalwart in our partnership with them and will continue to work in their country to protect elephants and the landscapes where they live. We urge the international community to support the DRC in the fight against the threat of extinction of the forest elephant.”

While the elephants of the Okapi Forest Reserve is paying a heavy price for the insecurity in the area fortunately other important and notable wildlife species of the World Heritage Site seems to be stable between 2007 and 2011. These species include the eastern chimpanzee population (approximately 6,000 individuals), okapi, and duikers.

External sites: Wildlife Conservation Society.

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