A new study by researchers at the Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny d’Abidjan-Cocody in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) has reported a large-scale and disastrous decline in the country’s forest elephant population. The study was published in the open-access journal “PLOS ONE”.
It is probable that, in precolonial and colonial times, the country contained one of the largest elephant populations in West Africa – hence its name. But by the early 1990s the country’s total population of savannah and forest elephants had fallen to less than 360.
Subsequent surveys did not follow a standard protocol. Moreover, the most recent of these was at least ten years old. So the research team, led by Sery Gonedelé Bi, launched a new survey. They analysed reports of human-elephant conflicts, media reports, interview surveys (collected from 2011 to 2017) and elephant dung counts.
The survey was conducted in 25 protected areas in the country. The presence of elephants was confirmed in only four of these areas. And in all four, the elephant population density was low.
Indeed, they discovered that more than half of these protected areas had ceased to exist, having been completely transformed into human settlements and farmland (including cocoa plantations). It was this ecosystem destruction which was the main reason for the catastrophic fall in elephant numbers in the country. Those protected areas which actually had some protection had a greater chance of containing elephant populations.
“The large majority of the protected areas of Côte d’Ivoire has lost its entire elephant populations as a consequence of the lack of conservation measures,” reported the research team. “Out of the 25 protected areas surveyed, forest elephants of Côte d’Ivoire are now confined into small populations in four protected areas.”
Strong conservation actions were needed to preserve the country’s remaining elephants, they affirmed. These should include law enforcement and ranger patrols.