At least 11,000 elephants were killed for their tusks in a national park in Gabon, which was home to the largest population of forest elephants at one time, over the past eight years, according to a survey released Wednesday.
Two thirds of the elephants in Minkebe Park in Gabon, a country located on the west coast of Africa, have disappeared since 2004, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which commissioned the survey. Most of the elephants were killed in the past five years.
“This sad news from Gabon confirms that without a global commitment, great elephant populations will soon become a thing of the past,” WCS President and CEO Cristián Samper said in a press release.
“We believe that elephants can still be saved–but only if nations greatly increase their efforts to stop poaching while eliminating the illegal ivory trade through better enforcement and reduced demand.”
Over the past few years, the demand for ivory has soared, mainly fueled by Asian countries, including China, Vietnam, and Thailand. The ivory, which can fetch as much as $900 for a pound in China, is used to manufacture luxury items, including jewelry and Buddha statutes.
“In June 2011, a significant increase in human activity in the Minkebe National Park and its buffer zone was detected. A small camp of 300 artisanal gold miners had expanded to over 5,000 miners, poachers, and arms and drugs dealers,” the press release said. “Park authorities estimated that 50-100 elephants were being killed daily.”
Officials in Gabon have said they have deployed 120 soldiers and 400 additional park personnel to defend the elephants from poaching, but admitted that it isn’t enough, according to the WCS.
“If we do not turn the situation around quickly the future of the elephant in Africa is doomed. These new results illustrate starkly just how dramatic the situation has become. Our actions over the coming decade will determine whether these iconic species survive,” said Lee White, the head of Gabon’s Agence Nationale des parcs Nationaux, in the release.
The poachers are usually armed with high-powered rifles and chainsaws to remove the tusks, and are usually camped out in secret locations in the Gabon rainforest, according to a statement by the Gabonese government.
A park official told Reuters that they are mainly from nearby Cameroon, where the government has increased efforts to combat poaching with soldiers and army helicopters.
“As the black market price for ivory rises every year… the country is becoming the target for the worst species of poachers in central Africa,” the office of President Ali Bongo Ondimba told AFP.
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