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Forest Elephants: Elephant Biology and Management Program in West Africa

Conservation International

Recognizing that elephants inhabiting the Upper Guinea forest of West Africa are highly endangered, Conservation International (CI) launched the Elephant Biology and Management (EBM) program in Ghana in 1999. The program is designed to address threats to the survival of West Africa's forest elephants through training, research, development of research tools, national-level institutional support, crop raiding reduction and mitigation, and habitat protection and conservation planning.

The forests of the West Africa region are ranked by CI as one of the "hottest of hotspots," harboring high biological richness, but also suffering from a high degree of threat as increasing human populations seek land and settlements. The Upper Guinea forest ecosystem spans six countries, extending from Guinea east to Togo. Once a belt of forest, the landscape is now heavily fragmented into forest "islands" by intensive logging and advancing agriculture that includes slash-and-burn practices.

As "flagship" species of the African continent, elephants are a global symbol of the large and varied fauna or our planet. Locally, they also are important symbols for many African cultures, representing taboos to some groups, while appearing in proverbs and stories for others. But West Africa's elephants have been little studied, not only because of the lack of human capacity, but also because of the difficulty of observing them in dense vegetation. It is known, however, that they play an important role in the forest ecosystem, through seed dispersal and browsing habits.

The taxonomy of elephants is currently being reviewed as a consequence of rapid advances in genetics. One study showed that there are at least two species of African elephants, the forest elephant (Loxodonta cycotis) and the savannah elephant (Loxodonta africana)(Roca et al, 2001). More recent work indicated that West African elephants may differ from elephants elsewhere on the continent to the extent that they should be classified as a separate subspecies or species (Eggert, 2001). If that finding were confirmed, it would mean that West African elephants are the most threatened elephant species and conservation measures woul become more urgent.

This excerpt was written by Conservation International © 2003.


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