What can you learn from a map of elephant dung?

Well if they’re forest elephants, dung density may be the best way to find out how many there are. According to the results of a nine-year study by researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society recently published in PLOS One, the results from Central Africa are not encouraging:  Our results demonstrate a widespread and catastrophic decline ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
610817_dung2.jpg
610817_dung2.jpg

Well if they're forest elephants, dung density may be the best way to find out how many there are. According to the results of a nine-year study by researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society recently published in PLOS One, the results from Central Africa are not encouraging: 

Our results demonstrate a widespread and catastrophic decline in numbers of forest elephants, in the order of 62%, and a corresponding range contraction of approximately 30%, during the nine-year period 2002-2011 represented by this study (Figs. 1 and 2; Tables S2 and S3). Forest elephants now have likely declined to extremely low density over 75% of their potential range (Tables S3, S6), and probably have been extirpated from large sections of this range. Considering 2002-2011 range contraction relative to elephant habitat per country, ca. 95% of DRC's forests are likely to be almost empty of elephants, a country historically thought to have held the highest numbers (Table S3). About half of the surviving elephants are in Gabon, and under a fifth in DRC, despite these countries covering 13% and 62% of the total forest area, respectively (Table S6). In 2011, less than 2% of the Central African forest contained elephants at high density (Table S3). Even for Gabon, in 2011 high density populations were found in only 14% of the forest (a decline of over 18% between 2002 and 2011). No high density areas remained in DRC even in 2002.

Not surprisingly, humans seem to be the main culprit. The authors writes, "Site-specific dung-encounter rates and hunter-sign frequency were significantly negatively correlated–elephants occur where people do not"

Well if they’re forest elephants, dung density may be the best way to find out how many there are. According to the results of a nine-year study by researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society recently published in PLOS One, the results from Central Africa are not encouraging: 

Our results demonstrate a widespread and catastrophic decline in numbers of forest elephants, in the order of 62%, and a corresponding range contraction of approximately 30%, during the nine-year period 2002-2011 represented by this study (Figs. 1 and 2; Tables S2 and S3). Forest elephants now have likely declined to extremely low density over 75% of their potential range (Tables S3, S6), and probably have been extirpated from large sections of this range. Considering 2002-2011 range contraction relative to elephant habitat per country, ca. 95% of DRC’s forests are likely to be almost empty of elephants, a country historically thought to have held the highest numbers (Table S3). About half of the surviving elephants are in Gabon, and under a fifth in DRC, despite these countries covering 13% and 62% of the total forest area, respectively (Table S6). In 2011, less than 2% of the Central African forest contained elephants at high density (Table S3). Even for Gabon, in 2011 high density populations were found in only 14% of the forest (a decline of over 18% between 2002 and 2011). No high density areas remained in DRC even in 2002.

Not surprisingly, humans seem to be the main culprit. The authors writes, "Site-specific dung-encounter rates and hunter-sign frequency were significantly negatively correlated–elephants occur where people do not"

Via Fight Entropy

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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