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There’s simply no way other way to begin this story: The future for Africa’s forest elephant (Loxodonata cyclotis) is exceedingly dire. The battle to protect this “hidden elephant” from unremitting slaughter is being lost to a more aggressive and merciless demand for the animals’ ivory. Still, despite the data and the carnage, Ruggiero—and some other conservationists—believes that there is a way for the trajectory to be slowly reversed.
If you compare the landmasses of Gabon and DRC, the latter should be the forest elephants’ stronghold by a wide margin. Lee White, as the Executive Secretary of the Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux (ANPN), oversees Gabon’s thirteen national parks and two other protected areas.
According to White, the battle for the survival of the forest elephant will be won or lost in Gabon. Their study, recently updated, shows that 65 percent of Africa’s forest elephants have been killed.
One of the most significant long-term massacres of forest elephants has taken place in Minkebe National Park in northeast Gabon. He emphasized that the problem was that there wasn’t a coordinated, active engagement between the NGOs and the Gabon government—there was money, but no effective presence.
Exacerbating the problem, between 2002 and 2011 a gold mining camp grew rapidly inside the 2,920-square-park, bringing in 6,000 people.
The mining population was trafficking in ivory, as well as “illegally panning for gold…[trafficking in] bush meat, drugs, arms, prostitutes, and, although the evidence is sketchy, children who were forced to work in the mines,” White says. In 2011 Richard Ruggiero and WCS scientist and then National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence J. The information galvanized ANPN—in conjunction with the army—to close the gold mining camps, and later that year all 6,000 people were summarily moved out of the park and buffer zone. In June 2012 Gabon burned its ivory stockpile to signal its zero-tolerance policy for wildlife crime. Furthermore, Wasser says, the majority of the tusks were “very small, which suggests they were poached from young elephants. More than half the poachers, he says, are Cameroonians illegally crossing into the country, often armed with .458s. Fiona Maisels explains that part of the challenge of protecting forest elephants is that “you can’t see what is going on.
Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba spoke at the conference, vowing that upon his return home he would “sign a new law making elephant poaching and trafficking a crime, raising the minimum sentence for convicted poachers to three years, and requiring a life sentence in cases involving organized crime.” (As of now, the new law has not been signed).


In a speech at the accompanying International Wildlife Trafficking Symposium at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), White detailed ANPN’s progress.
White works hard to foster what he calls an “esprit de corps” for the wardens (“If your staff aren’t motivated, you’re not going to win”) by increasing salaries, offering retirement policies, and providing medical insurance for families.
Perhaps most important, White continues to work closely with Gabon’s president Ali Bongo Ondimba, whom he calls his greatest ally. Gabon has worked so proactively in the past few years, White said in his ZLS speech, that the country is now considered a model for wildlife conservation in Africa. But there’s more to be done: “We’re far from getting to the level of performance that we need to be at to deal with the problem. Writing from the frontlines in Gabon, Richard Ruggiero made an impassioned plea: “I have had the good fortune to have lived with elephants for many years, and I think I have a fairly good grip on what they are, and maybe even how they think and feel. They will take everything we stood back when ghex invaded Tibet time for the West to show its teeth.To protect these species. I do like the idea of relocation, just not tampering with another ecosystem in the process. Please please tell me that there will be a full program or video on the elephants of Samburu – this video was such a tease, I would really like to see more, more, more!!! The US should get tough with China and at the very least threaten to stop importing their junk until they stop marketing products in not just elephants, but all the species that are endangered because of China — tigers, sun bears, turtles, snow leopards, the list is endless.
A Voice for Elephants & RhinosElephants and rhinoceroses may be large, heavy and thick-skinned, but they are being threatened with extinction in the wild by poaching for their ivory or horn, and by human impact on their habitats.
How Killing Elephants Finances Terror in AfricaArmed groups help fund operations by smuggling elephant ivory. This might come as a surprise, since Gabon is a relatively small country, about the size of the United Kingdom.
The most comprehensive report on their current numbers was a paper coauthored by Fiona Maisels, of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and biostatistician Samantha Strindberg, also with WCS; the study was published last year in PLOS ONE (“Devastating Decline of Forest Elephants in Central Africa”). Minkebe is considered one of, if not the most, important forest park for elephants in Africa.
Michael Fay assessed the situation in Minkebe, estimating that 50 to 100 elephants were being killed daily inside the park and the buffer zone.
A rotating detachment of 120 soldiers is now based, semi-permanently, in the park to protect the remaining elephants. According to Samuel Wasser—head of the Center for Conservation Biology, University of Washington, whose goal is to identify poaching hot spots in Africa by conducting DNA tests on officially seized ivory—some of those tusks originated in the Minkebe park region in northeast Gabon.


The poachers go into the forest, kill the elephants, hide the ivory until nighttime, and sneakily go down the river and pay off authority figures as they go. Ruggiero says he “sensed a significant increase in the state of awareness and will to address the poaching and trafficking crises. If we’re cited as a model, that’s because the other agencies around central Africa are so weak—and that’s why we have 58 percent of the [forest] elephants where we should have only 10 percent.
Regional agreements throughout Central Africa to adopt and to enforce similar wildlife policies adopted and enforced throughout Southern Africa where elephants are, in fact, largely thriving. We have seen throughout history how tampering with nature in such a way upsets the natural balance. I too, think like Doug Williams that to put them into other parks around the world is a great idea. Tagging all the elephants is not an impossible task and when this is done it will greatly reduce poaching.
Talking about anything else other than pointing the finger directly at China’s carving factories accomplishes nothing to help these hapless animals. Bloggers and commenters are required to observe National Geographic's community rules and other terms of service. Nearly 90 percent of the nation consists of rain forest, and though Gabon’s rain forests constitute only a fraction of the continent’s, they shelter close to a remarkable 60 percent of Africa’s remaining forest elephants. Today—almost unimaginably—the number has fallen to roughly 12,000, and it’s still dropping. To save them from ourselves is not only biologically essential, it should be one of humankind’s greatest endeavors—an effort that would require a heroic and selfless mission. Interesting that in the Chobe area of Botswana, the issue is too many elephants within the fragile environment. Journalists Bryan Christy and Aidan Hartley take viewers undercover as they investigate the criminal network behind ivory’s supply and demand. Significantly, the government of Gabon has increased ANPN’s budget from one million dollars to 18 million annually.
China changed its culture and demand when it made foot binding and poaching pandas illegal.



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