Forest Elephants At Brink Of Extinction, Researcher Flees Africa

The forest elephants are vanishing from the troubled Central African Republic. On Monday, Discover reporter Kenneth Miller published a dramatic description of key researcher Andrea Turkalo’s flight from the war-torn country in late April.

The 60-year-old Wildlife Conservation Society field biologist made a dramatic escape by boat from the rebel uprising. According to Miller’s account, she carried no weapons — just $25,000 in cash and six hard drives packed with 23 years of data from her elephant research program in a rainforest clearing known as Dzanga Bai.

You can read the full account of her dramatic escape on the Discover website.

Andrea Turkalo has reached the United States unharmed, and she will go forward with her work this summer at Cornell’s Elephant Listening Project, where she has already spent three consecutive summers working on her data from the Dzanga Bai clearing.

But the forest elephants themselves are still under siege. Turkalo has received information that on May 8, poachers armed with AK-47s gunned down 26 of the Dzanga Bai elephants, including four babies.

With the black market price of elephant ivory soaring, and the war-torn CAR unable to provide much protection for the animals, they are being wiped out systematically for profit. The numbers are hard to get, but according to a report in open access science journal PLOS One, the population crashed 62 percent between 2002 and 2011.

In March, a report to the CITES conservation summit in Bangkok said that two-thirds of the African forest elephants had now been lost to poachers.

The Guardian explained the reason behind the assault on the forest elephants this way:

“Forest elephants have suffered particularly badly because they range across central Africa, which has been left lawless in large areas by war, and where poachers have ready access to guns. Furthermore, the tusks of forest elephants are longer, straighter and harder than savannah elephants, making them particularly sought after.”

Here is a video about the Elephant Listening Project research that formerly took place in Dzanga Bai:

At this point, it’s hard to say when Andrea Turkalo’s field work can resume — or if there will be any forest elephants remaining in the CAR when the coup is over.

[family group of elephants in Central African Republic wetland by Damiano Luchetti via Wikimedia Commons]