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Ivory Coast without ivory? Elephant populations are declining rapidly in Côte d’Ivoire

Recent years have witnessed a widespread and catastrophic decline in the number of forest elephants in protected areas in Côte d’Ivoire, according to a study published October 14 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Sery Gonedelé Bi of Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny d’Abidjan-Cocody, and colleagues.

In precolonial and colonial times, Côte d’Ivoire probably hosted one of the largest elephant populations in West Africa, resulting in the country’s name, which translates to Ivory Coast. During the last three decades, elephant populations have sharply decreased, mainly because of forest agricultural clearing. By the early 1990s, the total number of savannah and forest elephants in the entire country was estimated to be less than 360. The most recently collected data on Côte d’Ivoire elephants are at least one decade old, and most of these studies did not follow a standardized protocol. In the new study, the authors present updated information on the distribution and conservation status of forest elephants in Côte d’Ivoire. The authors analyzed dung counts, records of human-elephant conflicts, media reports, and interview survey data obtained from 2011 to 2017.

Of the 25 protected areas surveyed, elephant presence was confirmed in only four areas, where elephant density was low. More than half of the protected areas had been completely converted to farms and human settlements. Protected areas with higher levels of protection had a higher probability of hosting an elephant population. The presence of elephants inside protected areas was affected by human population size, habitat degradation, and the proportion of forest converted to cocoa plantation. According to the authors, aggressive conservation actions, including law enforcement and ranger patrolling, are needed to protect the remaining forest elephant populations.

The authors add: “The large majority of the protected area of Côte d’Ivoire has lost its entire elephant populations as a consequence of the lack of conservation measures. Out of the 25 protected areas surveyed, forest elephants of Côte d’Ivoire are now confined into small populations in four protected areas.”

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