A team of scientists led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and working in close collaboration with experts from the Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux du Gabon (ANPN) compared the methodologies for counting African forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis), which was recently recognized by IUCN as a distinctly critically endangered species of African savanna elephants. The study is part of a larger initiative in partnership with Vulcan Inc. to provide the first national census in Gabon in over 30 years. Census results are expected later this year.
Unlike savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana) that can be counted directly, usually by aerial surveys, the accurate census of elusive forest elephants is more difficult and improvements in methods have been necessary. New survey method published for counting forest elephants in the newspaper Global ecology and conservation, the team compared traditional methodologies for counting elephant dung piles along line transects, with spatial capture-recapture (SCR) techniques using both camera traps and dung analysis. DNA. The SCR estimates populations by measuring how many times and where animals are told.
Lead author of the study, Alice Laguardia of the WCS Gabon program: “The more accurately we can count forest elephants, the more we can measure the success of conservation efforts. We hope that the results of this study will help forest elephants. governments and conservation partners to protect this critically endangered species throughout its range. “
The researchers evaluated the performance of the methodologies for three relatively large populations of forest elephants in Gabon. They found that the SCR method which used DNA sampling from feces was comparable in precision to the line transect method, but less expensive on a larger scale.
Stephanie Bourgeois, co-author and geneticist at ANPN, said: “The testing of this new DNA approach has been made possible by the recent development of new genetic techniques by the ANPN and the creation of a new genetics laboratory. in Gabon allowing all DNA analyzes to be carried out in the country. “
SCR camera trap surveys were more accurate at smaller but more expensive scales. The authors recommend that the use of the two SCR methods and their development continue. They say future findings and improvements should be compiled across studies to ensure their robust evolution as an option for tracking the African forest elephant in its range and informing strategies and actions for its conservation. .
Forest elephants have been wiped out by ivory poachers in recent years. A census conducted by WCS published in 2014 documented a 65 percent drop in the number of forest elephants between 2002 and 2013. With this new study, researchers will better understand how many forest elephants remain and where they reside. Efforts have been focused on Gabon, as it is believed to be home to more than 50 percent of the remaining forest elephant population, although it represents less than 15 percent of the range. species, making Gabon the most important country for forest elephant conservation.
“As long as ivory is a precious commodity, elephants will be in danger,” said Lee White, Gabon’s Minister of Water, Forests, Seas and Environment, responsible for climate change and the environment. territory Development. “In Africa, there is a clear link between environmental governance, peace and security. Countries that have lost their elephant populations have too often fallen into civil war. With the results of this study, we hope to get a clear picture of the poaching trend. and elephant populations throughout Gabon. “
“Vulcan recognizes the important role of accurate demographics for conservation management and policy decisions,” said Ted Schmitt, Director of Conservation at Vulcan Inc. “By providing timely census data, we can bridge the gaps. critical knowledge gaps and enable prioritization of conservation resources. We are happy to be a part of this effort with the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Government of Gabon to help preserve this important species. “
Funding for this vital work was provided by Vulcan Inc., a Seattle-based company founded by the late philanthropist Paul G. Allen and his sister Jody Allen, who is currently president.
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