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Huge Chunk of Forest Elephants Die From Poaching in Their Supposed Haven

Feb 21, 2017 08:35 AM EST

Despite being great and majestic creatures, elephants find themselves constantly threatened by poachers who want them for their ivory tusks. The forests of Gabon, Africa is supposed to be their safe haven, but a recent study published in Current Biology revealed that the forest elephants are dying out even in this corner of the world.

Scientists focused their study on the isolated Minkébé National Park (MNP) in Gabon, which was created primarily to be a sanctuary for forest elephants.

Nearly half of Central Africa's forest elephant population were believed to be in this national park, but the team found that more than 25,000 of the creatures have died between the years of 2004 and 2014. Declining from around 35,000 in 2004 to just 7,000 in 2014, the 78-81 percent population drop over the decade is an alarming phenomenon that is thought to be due to cross-border poaching.

"[This is] one of their last strongholds," George Wittemyer, an elephant conservationist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins who was not part of the study, told Science Magazine. "Their last bastions are now being eroded."

Read: Hurray! China Announces Complete Ban on Ivory Trade by 2017  

Forest elephants are different from the savannah or bush elephant that also lives in Africa. According to a report from The Atlantic, the former is much more elusive with ivory that has a pinkish tint and prized by poachers and collectors.

Because they are so difficult to get a hold of, the scientists came to their conclusions by counting piles of dung, converting them to elephant numbers in 2004 and 2014. The results were a surprise to the scientists who weren't expecting such a steep decline in numbers.

"It was an enormous shock," John Poulsen, co-author from Duke University, said. "To be quite honest, I would have guessed that other studies had overestimated the loss. I was expecting a decline, but I didn't expect it to be that high."

Poachers from Cameroon make their way to Gabon despite military presence. Commercial logging is one of the main threats to the elephant population, bringing in more people to the area and giving way to roads that lead hunters straight to the home of forest elephants.

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