West and Central African Elephant Populations Decline 50% in 40 Years
Elephants are protected on the savannas of Central and Western Africa but, according to a new survey, their numbers have still declined by 50 percent or more in the last 40 years. More alarming is that populations have become highly fragmented, with several far below the limit of what is thought to be sustainable.
Photo credit: miquitos/Creative Commons
In total, researchers estimate an elephant population of 7,750 across the Sudano-Sahelian zone—an area of savanna that stretches across the continent just below the Sahara desert. This number, they say, represents a 50 percent decline in just 40 years.
Of the 23 populations studied an alarming number had fewer than 200 individuals—the benchmark for a sustainable elephant community.
Perhaps most alarming is that the survey only looked at elephants in protected areas. Civil conflicts and poaching were identified as key contributors to the decline but the greatest threats, researchers said, were declining rainfall and and increasing competition with livestock for land and water resources.
The loss of elephants in the region would impact numerous other species because the are important curators of the savanna habitat, responsible for clearing areas through grazing and trampling and also distributing seeds.
To preserve the remaining elephants, researchers suggest that wildlife corridors must be constructed to connect the small, fragmented populations.
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