Douala, Cameroon, October 25, 2017: WWF in collaboration with the respective ministries in charge of wildlife of the different countries and various partners conducted the censuses between 2014 and 2016. The inventories were carried out in key protected areas (representing 20 per cent of the area covered) and surrounding zones (logging concessions, hunting zones and other land use types) in Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Gabon. The censuses focused on forest elephants, great apes (chimpanzees and gorillas) as well as on human activities in the surveyed area.
Published in a WWF Central Africa Biomonitoring report, the results indicate an estimated number of surviving forest elephants to be about 9500 while the great apes population is estimated at 59,000 weaned individuals across the surveyed area.
However, the studies revealed a 66 per cent decline in elephant population between 2008 and 2016 across the landscapes and a probable stable population of great apes. The figures are particularly alarming in the Cameroon segment of Tri-national Dja-Odzala-Minkebe (TRIDOM) transboundary conservation landscape where elephant numbers have declined by more than 70 per cent in less than 10 years.
“Despite these shocking data, we believe that the trends can be reversed partly if decision makers, wildlife managers and local communities make maximum use of these scientifically established data to guide elaboration of policies, surveillance plans and strategies to combat wildlife crime,” says Dr K. Paul N’GORAN, WWF Biomonitoring Coordinator for Central Africa . “There is a crucial need for the international community to support such actions taken by governments and conservation NGOs in collaboration with local communities,” he adds.
“This is the first time wildlife censuses have been carried out on such a large scale and over a short period of time in Central Africa,” states N’GORAN. “The censuses were conducted using harmonized line transect techniques of the distance sampling methodology, which is widely applied and internationally recognized for wildlife inventories,” N’GORAN adds.
Protected areas as wildlife havens
The report showed that industrial-scale poaching for ivory is the biggest driver of the drastic decline of elephant populations in the region. This has pushed elephants to seek refuge inside protected areas considered safer havens. “The inventory results revealed that poaching and other human pressure are higher outside national parks; this pressure is 50 per cent less in national parks than outside,” N’GORAN says.
“While we commend the leaders of the four Congo Basin countries for the progress made in reducing the impact of human activities within protected areas, by working together with communities and organizations present on the ground, continued poaching and failure to secure the migration corridors of elephants in and around these protected areas could lead to the decimation of the remaining populations,” N’GORAN says. “This might extend the threat to other species of the rich biodiversity in these countries,” he adds.
WWF is urging leaders of these four countries to urgently, strengthen legislation aimed at curbing poaching. Authorities in these four countries also need to come together and step up joint cross border monitoring and law enforcement measures in and around protected areas, in close collaboration with local communities in order to tackle the complex operations of wildlife crime networks in the Congo Basin.