Source Newsroom: Cornell University
Newswise — This week, a new study spearheaded by the Wildlife Conservation Society found a stunning decline in the population of African forest elephants – down 62 percent in just the last decade – and attributed that decimation primarily to habitat loss and ivory poaching. Peter Wrege, a behavioral ecologist and director of the groundbreaking Elephant Listening Project at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology since 2007, comments on this new report from his research base on Gabon.
“This research is critical because it is the first consolidation of best estimates of what is really happening with forest elephants. These are the only elephants still living a more-or-less normal elephant life, roaming the forests as they need to find resources and mates. But a 60 percent decline in a decade, and perhaps 10 percent of the population of 2011 killed by the end of 2012; that equals a pretty critical situation.
“Protection of forest elephants is particularly challenging because they are living in tropical rainforest – the second largest in the world. They are hard to observe and that means that poachers are hard to observe. The governments of the key Central African states that still have reasonable populations of forest elephants – Gabon, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Central African Republic – along with considerable help from conservation organizations like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service International Conservation Program, Wildlife Conservation Society, World Wide Fund for Nature, are all trying to step up anti-poaching efforts, but it is not easy.
“Ultimately the only permanent solution is to change the demand for ivory. It is a very beautiful material, which explains why it has been so prized for centuries. But the animals that carry that ivory are more beautiful still, with high intelligence, empathy for other individuals in distress, highly emotional response to the death even of unrelated elephants – these animals, like ourselves, have long and complex lives. If the buyers of insignificant trinkets, even beautiful works of art, made at the cost of these animal's lives only understood at what cost their desires were being fulfilled, I have to believe they would stop.
“Humans are also a species with empathy – why do we not show it toward the other magnificent creatures that share our world?”
For more information on the Elephant Listening Project, go to: www.birds.cornell.edu/brp/elephant