Existence of Two African Elephant Species Declared
Once everyone is on the same page about the two elephants, conservation measures can be formulated to address the specific needs of each species. While estimates in Central Africa point to anywhere from 10,000 to 49,000 elephants, in West Africa those numbers are much lower, around 2,000 to 7,000 elephants. West Africa populations are largely composed of forest elephants, and in this region especially, the numbers are waning. Due to poaching, habitat loss, and the chaos of civil wars, forest elephants have already disappeared from Sierra Leone and Liberia. In Senegal, researchers estimated in 2007 there were only one to nine remaining individual forest elephants in the country. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) lists elephants as Appendix I species—in other words, the most endangered and protected from commercial trade.
Establishing new conservation strategies is difficult and requires money and time, Kolokotronis says, and he realized organizations like the IUCN “have to adopt a higher degree of realism than sentimental scientists like us.” And for forest elephants, estimating population numbers is much more difficult than that of their savannah cousins. It requires more than just flying a plane overhead and counting herds since thick forest cover obscures populations from view. The first step in conserving the species would be establishing an accurate population count, and conservation schemes would follow from there.
Savannah elephants, on the other hand, are faring much better. Where conservation measures have been implemented in places like South Africa, Kolokotronis says, population numbers have exploded. This is sometimes to the detriment of farmers, though, as a hungry elephant can wreck an entire year’s crop of corn in less than two hours.
With such different ecological circumstances and conservation needs, Kolokotronis believes its time to move forward and establish specific protection regimes. As Kolokotronis and colleagues write, not acknowledging the difference between African elephants only hinders successful conservation of these two distinct species.