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GABON - FOREST ELEPHANT STRONGHOLD

Map of Gabon showing forest cover and National Parks

Unlike some surrounding countries, Gabon has a stable government, a low human population density, and large tracts of intact and pristine forests. Consequently, Gabon may well be the stronghold of the forest elephant in Central Africa, and it is therefore imperative that this population is protected. The Elephant Listening Project has an expanding program of study and community outreach in this beautiful country.

Gabon provides an exceptional opportunity for the conservation of tropical rainforest diversity, including such charismatic animals as forest elephant, lowland gorilla, chimpanzee, mandrill, and the myriad other species of animal and plant that share their forest ecosystem. Nearly 85% of the country is still covered in forest - good forest, and the late President Omar Bongo designated a system of National Parks that represent 11% of the land area of Gabon.

In Loango National Park, on the coast of Gabon, ELP has been studying the effects of oil exploration on the ecology of forest elephants. The most important direct effect was that elephants became more nocturnal in response to human disturbance in the forest. Although apparently unrelated to the exploration activities, we also documented the sounds of gunshots, indicating high levels of illegal hunting in the park. As a consequence of that discovery, we are beginning a new collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society to study the effectiveness of reconnaissance patrols by government eco-guards on hunting activity. This will be the first attempt to directly measure how hunting activity responds to different conditions.

Gabon's Interior

In Gabon's interior, ELP is monitoring forest elephant activity at a diversity of bais. Inside and around Ivindo N.P. we are listening in on five clearings, including four very interesting ones within logging concessions. These have different histories with respect to hunting activity and current disturbance, and we are interested in seeing how these factors affect visitation rates by forest elephants. The management of both of the logging concessions is interested in minimizing negative impacts on their elephant populations and in developing ways to reduce hunting activity. These are difficult problems but a start is being made to address them.

Family of forest elephants coming to Bai Ikengue

© Marie-Amélie Forin-Wiart

A family of forest elephants comes into Bai Ikengue, a clearing located outside of Batéké N.P. and the focus of efforts by the Mopia Community Association to develop an ecotourism area as an alternative land-use plan.

In southeastern Gabon we are gathering acoustic data at several bais located within and just outside of Batéké N.P. One of these, Bai Jobo, is extremely remote (it takes about three days of travel over 4-wheel drive tracks, by river, and by all-terrain vehicle to reach this location) and almost nothing was known about elephant use of the bai. Our data, now covering more than six months, show that extremely high numbers of elephants are visiting this bai during some seasons. Documenting the relative intensity of use of different clearings is critical for successful management of the forest elephant, and our acoustic methodology is excellent for long term monitoring of remote locations without human presence.