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Tue, 05 Mar 2013 12:33 - Updated Tue, 05 Mar 2013 12:33

African forest elephants decline by 62% in 10 years

Central Africa

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Africa - Forest elephant numbers have decreased by 62% across Central Africa over the last 10 years, according to a study.

The analysis confirmed fears that African forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) are heading for extinction, possibly within the next decade.

Conservationists said "effective, rapid, multi-level action is imperative" in order to save the elephants.

They are concerned the forest elephants are being killed for their ivory.

Results of the study, undertaken by researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and several other conservation organisations, are published in the scientific journal PLoS One.

Over 60 co-authors contributed to the study, which was led by Dr Fiona Maisels, a WCS conservation scientist from the School of Natural Sciences, University of Stirling, and Dr Samantha Strindberg, also a WCS conservation scientist.

"Although we were expecting to see these results, we were horrified that the decline over the period of a mere decade was over 60%," Dr Maisels told BBC Nature.

Findings also indicated that large areas where the elephants ranged just 10 years ago now have very few elephants remaining.

Scientists surveyed forests in Cameroon, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Gabon and the Republic of Congo.

Dr Maisels said survey teams spent "91,600 person-days... walking over 8,000 miles (12,875km)" to compile the largest amount of African forest elephant data ever collected.

"For elephants, we can get a standardised measure of their abundance using their dung piles. There were 11,000 dung piles in our dataset," said Dr Maisels.

She said the teams also recorded important "human signs" such as snares and bullet casings during the field missions from 2002 to 2011.

The results confirmed what scientists already suspected.

"Forest elephants were increasingly uncommon in places with high human density, high levels of infrastructure such as roads, high hunting intensity, and poor governance - indicated by levels of corruption and absence of law enforcement," commented Dr Maisels.

"We were also shocked to see that huge parts of the reasonably intact African forests have lost most of their elephants."