28 Elephants Killed in Africa, Poachers Bring Species Closer to Extinction

Wednesday, 13 Mar 2013 03:36 PM

By Alexandra Ward

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Poachers have killed 28 forest elephants in two of southeastern Cameroon's national parks in recent weeks, putting the species that much closer to extinction, conservationists say.

Representatives for the conservation organization World Wide Fund for Nature said they found the carcasses of 23 elephants that had been stripped of their tusks in Nki national park between Feb. 10 and March 1. Five more dead elephants were found at the Lobeke national park in the west Central African country of Cameroon.

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"The poachers used automatic weapons, such as AK-47s, reflecting the violent character of elephant poaching," Zacharie Nzooh, Cameroon's WWF representative, told Reuters. "Elephants in these two protected areas in the Congo Basin are facing a threat to their existence."

A cousin of the African elephant, the forest elephant has straighter tusks, which are nonetheless still a valuable commodity to poachers thanks to the rising demand of ivory in Asia. Nzhoo estimates there are only about 2,000 forest elephants in Cameroon, and the number of the animals throughout Africa as a whole has gone down 62 percent over the last decade.

A recent study conducted by scientists at an international wildlife summit in Bangkok produced sobering findings.

"The analysis confirms what conservationists have feared: the rapid trend towards extinction — potentially within the next decade — of the forest elephant," Samantha Strindberg of the Wildlife Conservation Society told the Guardian.

In 2012, poachers slaughtered 200 savannah elephants in Cameroon's Bouba Ndjida National Park, according to Reuters, leading the country to dispatch military helicopters and 600 soldiers to protect the park and its wildlife.

"A rainforest without elephants is a barren place," Lee White, head of the National Parks Service in Gabon, once home to the largest forest elephant population, told the Guardian. "They bring it to life, they create the trails and keep open the forest clearings other animals use; they disperse the seeds of many of the rainforest trees — elephants are forest gardeners at a vast scale."

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