Sixty-five percent of Central Africa's forest elephants were killed between 2002 and 2013, according to a study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
Reporting their results at the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade last week, the researchers said the forest elephant is being poached at an alarming rate of 9 percent per year.
The 12-year study of Central African forest elephants took 80 sites in five countries into account.
The study is a follow-up to previous research done by the same team, which revealed that the forest elephant population had been reduced to just 10 percent of its historical size and that the pachyderms occupy just one-quarter of the area they once did.
John Robinson, WCS Chief Conservation Officer and Executive Vice President of Conservation and Science said that the numbers highlight the sense of urgency facing the elephant poaching crisis. He said that conservation commitments made by nations around the world "cannot fail or the African forest elephant will blink out in our lifetime."
"At least a couple of hundred thousand forest elephants were lost between 2002-2013 to the tune of at least sixty a day, or one every twenty minutes, day and night. By the time you eat breakfast, another elephant has been slaughtered to produce trinkets for the ivory market," said WCS researcher Fiona Maisels.
The study revealed that the tiny nation of Gabon is home to about 60 percent of the remaining forest elephant population. Historically, the Democratic Republic of the Congo would have hosted the most forest elephants.
"The current number and distribution of elephants is mind-boggling when compared to what it should be," said Samantha Strindberg, a WCS researcher and study co-author. "About 95 percent of the forests of DRC are almost empty of elephants."
African forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) are found exclusively in Central African nations. Just four years ago they were conclusively proved to be a separate species from African savanna elephants (L. africana).
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