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Updated Apr 20, 2020

There are two sub-species of the African elephant, the African savanna elephant and the smaller African forest elephant. The latter is native to the tropical forests of Central and West Africa. Threatened by poaching and habitat loss, the African forest elephant population of Central Africa has fallen by more than 30 percent in the past seven years.


Forest elephant populations had declined by about 66 percent over eight years.


Declining Numbers

In 2010, Cameroon’s elephant population was 21,000, but that number has fallen drastically in the past decade due to poaching for the international ivory trade. In 2014, research funded by Save the Elephants revealed that the price of ivory in China, the world’s biggest market, almost tripled in the previous four years.

In 2017, wildlife censuses carried out in Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and Gabon revealed that forest elephant populations had declined by about 66 percent over eight years.


In this photograph taken on April 11, 2019, a wild forest elephant and calves bathe in the marshes of in Bayanga Equatorial Forest, part of the Dzanga Sangha Reserve, the last refuge of forest elephants and Central African gorillas, in south-western Central African Republic. Due to the increase in poaching amid an ongoing internal conflict, the number of large mammals in the Central African Republic has decreased by 94% in thirty years, according to a 2018 Ecofaune report. In the north of the country, all rhinos, giraffes and savanna elephants have disappeared. FLORENT VERGNES / AFP
Forest elephants bathe in Dzanga-Sangha Dense Forest Reserve in the southwest of the Central African Republic. (Florent Vergnes/AFP)


The Demand for Ivory and Wood

Elephant poaching is rife in Cameroon’s Deng Deng National Park and Nja Biosphere Reserve, for example, and the area is known as a hub for the illegal ivory trade. But poaching is not the only threat facing these elephants. The logging industry has played an outsize role in decimating elephant habitats, not only by felling trees but also by setting up logging camps, thus bringing people deeper into the forest. This coincides with smaller-scale illegal logging, as people burn wood for fuel. As logging roads push deeper into the forest, new routes open up for poachers hunting for human consumption, as the trade in bushmeat is a full-time source of income for some, and for others a matter of survival in times of hardship.

What is happening in the Central African rainforests poses a dilemma for governments, which must weigh their obligations to protect the environment with the need to develop infrastructure and manufacturing capacities.


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