National Geographic News
The elephant population in one of central Africa's remaining wildlife strongholds may vanish within the next two to three years if poaching continues at recent levels, according to conservationists who recently surveyed the park.
Researchers conducted two sample surveys this year of African elephant populations in Chad's Zakouma National Park. Both counts indicate that there may be just a thousand members of the species left in this 1,200-square-mile (3,100-square-kilometer) refuge.
That represents a significant decrease from 2005, when the population was estimated at 3,885. In 2006 conservationists counted 3,020 elephants.
Because some elephants leave Zakouma during their winter migration, the 2008 numbers—from both the Chadian government, in conjunction with the European Union, and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)—are rough estimates. WCS will conduct a full census next spring, when elephants have migrated back to the park and its replenished water sources.
But the organization's director for Africa programs, James Deutsch, said he expects the worst.
"A thousand is our best educated guess," Deutsch said. "It would be pretty surprising if the number was above 1,500."
WCS biologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence J. Michael Fay points the finger at poaching, which he says has intensified in and around Zakouma since 2005 due, in part, to the increased acceptability of and access to the global ivory trade.
The 2008 population estimates are based, in part, on reports of poaching and the discovery of at least 300 elephant carcasses.
"What we do know [now], is that we have an enormous poaching problem that didn't exist two years ago," Fay said.
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