Elephants fast vanishing from Congo's Okapi reserve



Elephants fast vanishing from Congo`s Okapi reserve Washington: Elephants, a protected species, are fast vanishing from Congo's Okapi Faunal Reserve (OFR), recording an alarming 37 percent decline over the past five years, according to surveys carried out by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), an environmental protection organisation.

WCS scientists warn that if elephant poaching in Congo, Africa's second largest country, continues unabated, the species could become nearly extinct there within 10 years. Their numbers are already down to only 1,700 at the Okapi Reserve.

The survey by WCS shows that 5,100, or 75 percent, of the reserve's elephants have been killed in the last 15 years. These numbers are particularly shocking as the OFR is considered the best protected reserve in Congo.

The park rangers cannot keep up with the dramatic increase in demand for ivory that is being fueled by economic growth in Asia, particularly China, and facilitated by increased access to previously remote forests. Ivory poaching is increasingly undertaken by highly organized and heavily armed criminal cartels, according to a statement by WCS.

The survey comes in the wake of another grim report earlier this month from Gabon where 11,000 elephants are said to have been slaughtered in Minkebe National Park over a 10-year period.

WCS continues to sound the alarm that rampant poaching is decimating elephant populations throughout Africa, and more needs to be done to protect them, or their populations may wholly vanish from many areas.

"The global poaching crisis for elephants is at epidemic proportions," said John Robinson, WCS Executive Vice-President for Conservation and Science. "The world must come together to recognize this problem and to stop the killing, trafficking and demand, or we will lose elephants in the wild in our lifetime."

During the civil war between 1996 and 2003, park rangers could not protect much of OFR but were able to document the elephant killings and ivory poaching. Since the end of the civil war, five years ago, the rangers claim to have reduced the decline from approximately 400 to 170 elephants annually.

IANS