Elephant poaching skyrockets in African rain forest zones

Demand from Asia for quality ivory of rain forest pachyderm has spiked; in Gabon, two-thirds of elephants, or 11,000 wiped out in one national park since 2004.

Schalk van Zuydam/AP/File
Elephants drink water at a dam inside the Addo Elephant National Park near Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Dec. 2012. Demand from Asia for quality ivory of rain forest pachyderm has spiked in African rainforest zones.

Poachers have killed more than 11,000 elephants in Gabon's Minkebe National Park rain forest since 2004, Gabon's government said on Wednesday, with the massacre fueled by increasing demand for ivory in Asia.

The densely-forested central African country is home to about half the world's roughly 100,000 remaining forest elephants, the smallest species of elephant and coveted by ivory dealers for their harder and straighter tusks.

A study conducted by Gabon's government along with advocacy groups World Wildlife Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society found two-thirds of the forest elephants in Minkebe park had been killed off since 2004, or about 11,100.

"If we don't reverse this situation rapidly, the future of elephants in Africa will be compromised," Lee White, executive secretary of Gabon's national parks agency, said in a statement issued by Gabon's presidency.

Demand for ivory for use in jewelery and ornamental items is rising fast in Asia. Conservationists say growing Chinese influence and investment in Africa has opened the door wider for the illicit trade in elephant tusks.

Poachers are often armed with large-caliber rifles and chainsaws to remove tusks, the statement issued by the presidency said. They have secret camps in the rain forest, evading small deployments of park guards and leaving rotting elephant carcasses in their wake.

A park official said most of the poachers were believed to be from neighboring Cameroon, where the government has deployed army helicopters and hundreds of troops to protect its own dwindling elephant population.

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