One hundred years ago, Côte d’Ivoire—a nation that takes its name from the once-flourishing ivory trade that ran through its ports—was home to between 3,000 and 5,000 forest elephants. Today, according to a study by Kouakou et al., published in PLOS ONE in October, extensive habitat loss and poaching have left a mere 225 forest elephants in the country. The study authors state that “forest elephants will be extinct in Côte d’Ivoire unless immediate actions are implemented to safeguard the remaining population.” In the past two decades alone, forest elephant numbers in the country have plummeted by 90 percent.
The authors surveyed 25 areas of the country, totaling nearly 3,700 square kilometers (over 1,400 square miles) that were at least nominally protected. Elephants have been extirpated from 21 of these areas, largely due to forest loss—71 percent of the forests have been cleared or transformed into agricultural plantations, primarily for the production of cocoa. The remaining elephants are struggling to survive on islands of forests surrounded by agricultural lands. As forest habitat is lost, elephant food supplies dwindle, forcing them into human-occupied areas, including agricultural fields, increasing incidents of human–elephant conflict and, in turn, poaching.
Kouakou and colleagues note that “aggressive conservation actions including law enforcement for the protection of their remaining habitat and anti-poaching actions are needed to protect the remaining forest elephant populations.”