11,000 elephants lost to ivory poaching in Africa
Washington, Feb 7 : Gabon's Minkebe Park in Africa, home to the largest elephant population, has lost 11,000 jumbos to ivory poaching since 2004, The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) said.
The shocking unprecedented figures come from the Park, where recent surveys of areas within the park revealed that two-thirds of its elephants have vanished since 2004.
Gabon contains over half of Africa's forest elephants, with a population estimated at over 40,000. The majority of these losses have probably taken place in the last five years, according to a WCS statement.
The surveys were conducted by WCS, WWF, and Gabon's National Parks Agency - Agence Nationale des parcs Nationaux (ANPN).
The survey was funded by ANPN, the CITES MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants) Programme, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
"This sad news from Gabon confirms that without a global commitment, great elephant populations will soon become a thing of the past," said WCS President and CEO Cristian Samper.
"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."
Until recently, Gabon's elephant herds were believed to be less impacted by poaching than in other parts of Africa, where according to the Born Free Foundation, an estimated 31,800 elephants were lost to poaching last year.
However, Gabon's National Park Agency reported an uptick of poaching in recent years, including the 2011 slaughter of 27 elephants in a protected area just outside of the capital.
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.
Park authorities estimated that 50-100 elephants were being killed daily as a result of increases in demand for ivory from the Far East and resulting price hike.
Since the survey results were announced, Gabon has stepped up its anti-poaching efforts seizing 20 tusks in the nation's capital of Libreville and arresting poachers who had illegally entered the country from neighbouring Cameroon.
Gabon's National Park staff recently engaged in a fire fight with armed poachers in Minkebe National Park after arresting two individuals carrying six tusks.
President Ali Bongo Ondimba announced that Gabon will pass new legislation by increasing prison terms to a minimum of three years for ivory poachers and 15 years for poaching and ivory trafficking involving organised crime.