The status of the forest elephant in the world heritage Dja Faunal Reserve, Cameroon

Abstract

Central African forest elephants (Loxodonta africana cyclotis) have declined by an estimated 62% between 2002 and 2011, largely as a result of poaching for the illegal ivory trade. They are now considerably more threatened than the Vulnerable African savannah elephant (Loxodonta africana), and effective monitoring of refugia populations is essential to inform management and conservation plans to secure a future for this megafaunal species.

 

Our forest elephant dung-based distance-sampling survey of the 5,260 km2 World Heritage Dja Faunal Reserve (DFR) in Cameroon systematically covered 298.2 km of line transects with a further 1,681.4 km covered as recces. The population estimates of 0.042 individuals/km2 (CV: 19.4%; 95% CI: 0.029–0.061) and 219 individuals (95% CI: 150–319) confirmed a significant decline over recent years. The low density of forest elephants in the DFR reflects similar losses experienced in other parts of Central Africa such as the heavily impacted Korup National Park (0.04 individuals/km2).

 

Elephants now mainly persist in pockets within the northern part of the DFR, where the Cameroon Ministry of Forests and Fauna (MINFOF) has initiated a community support partnership agreement on sustainable access to forest resources, and increased law enforcement patrols and rapid response. The southern sector of the DFR is much more vulnerable to organised wildlife crime gangs operating from trafficking hubs outside traditional communities.  The DFR management is implementing a community surveillance network and increasing SMART based patrolling, especially along the DFR’s southern boundary, as well as in the south-eastern corner to secure the only existing forest elephant corridor. With improved security and appropriate engagement with local communities and private sector operators in the region, the remaining elephant population should start to expand across the DFR and its buffer zone, and numbers gradually increase across the wider landscape.

 

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