Elephant conservation in the Green Heart of Africa

Sub-adult forest elephants (Loxodonta africana cyclotis) play fighting. Dzanga Bai. Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, Central African Republic (CAR)
© WWF / Martin HARVEY

Making sure elephants are here to stay

African elephants are threatened by illegal hunting for meat and ivory, habitat loss and increasing conflict with humans.
In the Congo Basin forests, WWF has supported the development of a Central Africa Elephant Strategy that is specifically targeting African forest elephants (Loxodonta africana cyclotis), to ensure that they don’t disappear along with the forests.
Elephants play an important role in the forest and savanna ecosystems in which they live. Among their many roles, they are vectors for plants that need to pass through their digestive tract before they can germinate.

Mitigating conflict between elephants and humans

One of WWF’s priorities for elephants in the Congo River Basin is to mitigate human-elephant conflict in several key sites. These conflicts are increasingly common where humans expand their agricultural activities to the detriment of forests - the natural habitat of elephants.

Squeezed into increasingly smaller natural spaces and lured close to settlements by the crops planted by humans, endangered elephants have become an economic and safety problem in many places.

Small farmers - often desperately poor and already economically and nutritionally vulnerable, forced by circumstances to encroach into elephant habitat - can lose their entire livelihood (and sometimes their lives) from an elephant raid.

 / ©: WWF CARPO/Peter Ngea
"The elephant never falls!". This giant bull is going through the final stage of having a radio-collar that will help studies on elephant movement and distribution within the Congo Basin region. Jengi Project, Lobeke National Park, Cameroon
© WWF CARPO/Peter Ngea
In places like Campo Ma'an National Park in Cameroon, WWF is monitoring interactions between humans and elephants and training villagers to reduce conflict with elephants.

Another focus of WWF is capacity building. Hundreds of people have received training in elephant management issues such as law enforcement, elephant population monitoring and human-elephant conflict mitigation.

Keeping elephant poaching down

Where necessary, WWF is stepping up anti-poaching efforts around protected areas harbouring elephants, including Campo Ma'an, Salonga and Virunga National Parks in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In Cameroon, WWF is also working towards establishing new protected areas in elephant range - such as in Ebo Forest.

Revealing the habits of the forest elephant

In the Tri-Nationale de la Sangha, a complex of three protected areas, WWF continues to work with the North Carolina Zoo and the government of Cameroon to monitor elephants.

Radio-tracking studies have shown that animals spend at least 80% of their time outside protected areas, highlighting the need to work with local stakeholders to manage wildlife in buffer zones.

The results of the MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants) surveys in Central Africa have provided baseline data on key elephant populations. This includes elephant hotspots, areas where there is a high density of elephant populations, and areas where poaching activities are taking place.

Such information makes it possible for WWF and partners to prioritize specific sites and issues for intervention.
 / ©:  WWF CARPO/Peter Ngea
WWF staff work together with local Baka pygmies and Bangando young men to put a radio-collar on the neck of an elephant to enable better monitoring. Jengi Project, Lobeke National Park, Cameroon
© WWF CARPO/Peter Ngea

The risks of elephant research

But elephant conservation remains a dangerous business. In 2005, Dr Martin Tchamba, WWF's Conservation Director in Cameroon and one of WWF’s leading elephant experts, was seriously injured by an elephant he was trying to radio-collar in Waza National Park, Cameroon.

Across Africa, protected areas rangers are exposed not only to the unpredictable nature of elephants, but also to ruthless poachers. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) remains especially challenging.

Our growing knowledge of elephant ecology will gradually improve elephant conservation, but unless habitat loss, poaching and human-elephant conflict are reduced, these creatures will continue to face an uncertain future in the Green Heart of Africa.

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