Africa's elephants now endangered by poaching, habitat loss

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FILE- A Savanna elephant is photographed in Kruger National Park, South Africa, in this March 4, 2020 file photo. Increasing threats of poaching and loss of habitat have made Africa's elephant populations more endangered, according to a report released Thursday March 25, 2021, by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)

LIBREVILLE – Increasing threats of poaching and loss of habitat have made Africa's elephant populations more endangered, according to a report released Thursday by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The African forest elephant is critically endangered, and the African savanna elephant is endangered. The two species had previously been grouped together as a single species and were classified as vulnerable by the IUCN.

The number of African forest elephants has fallen by more than 86% over a 31-year period, while the population of savanna elephants dropped by more than 60% over a 50-year period, according to the IUCN, which rates the global extinction risks to the world's animals.

Africa currently has 415,000 elephants, counting the forest and savanna elephants together, according to the IUCN.

The savanna elephants prefer more open plains and are found in various habitats across sub-Saharan Africa, with Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe having high concentrations. The African forest elephants — smaller in size — mostly occupy the tropical forests of West and Central Africa, with the largest remaining populations found in Gabon and Republic of Congo.

In Gabon, the fight against elephant poaching “is more than just fighting for nature. It’s fighting for the stability of our country," Lee White, Gabon's minister of water and forests, told The Associated Press.

"We have seen countries like Central African Republic, where poachers became bandits, became rebels and destabilized the whole country,” White said, attributing the bulk of poaching and ivory trafficking to international cross-border syndicates.

“Eighty to 90% of our ivory goes to Nigeria and ends up funding (the jihadist rebels) Boko Haram. So it’s very much a cross-border fight against organized crime and even against terrorism,” he said.