Protecting an elephant outpost

In a small, hilly forest on the western edge of the African continent, the last elephants in the Republic of Guinea cling to survival. With only 200 remaining, the Ziama forest that lies on the border with Liberia provides them with a final refuge in an increasingly human dominated landscape.

Across West Africa, tiny scattered groups of elephants hide in whatever pockets of cover they can find. The region is now home to less than 3% of the continent’s remaining elephants, and they might seem doomed to eventual extinction. The large elephant populations that can still be found in other parts of the continent are a more attractive proposition to the bulk of donors because of their size and fame. 

Remnant elephant populations matter to the nations that host them and their people, to the genetics of the species, and to the ultimate recovery of elephants from the scourge of the ivory crisis. We believe that these forest elephants in Ziama can have a future and they can teach us lessons about coexistence between elephants and people that will be applicable elsewhere. We also believe that elephant conservation is not just about numbers; our goal is to achieve the survival of elephants in as many parts of their range as possible. Governments of many of these countries are realizing that they are in danger of losing an extremely important part of their national heritage and are now seeking the support the ECF and our partners can provide.

As the pressures on the elephants of the Kiama forest continued to increase, disaster struck with the 2014 Ebola epidemic. The forest was close to the center of the outbreak, and all conservation work came to a standstill.

In early 2015, as the epidemic came to an end, Fauna and Flora International (FFI) approached the ECF to ask for support of their work to protect the Ziama elephants. After careful vetting, we provided funding for equipment, training, and provisions for 30 rangers and to set up village liaison committees to engage the local communities in the conservation work of the reserve.

One of Africa’s few remaining forest elephants, pictured here in a clearing in Noubalé-Ndoki in the Republic of Congo. Forest elephants have been shown to reproduce slower than almost any other mammal, making them particularly vulnerable to poaching.

Stories From The Field

By early 2016 the situation had completely changed. The rangers in new uniforms and with new training had become a capable team, taking pride in their work. They are now carrying out five-day patrols in the forest and recording routes and observations using GPS devices, rather than word of mouth. They found and destroyed 627 steel cable snares that threaten elephants and other wildlife alike. And, in a mere few months, eleven poachers were arrested.

The work with local communities bore fruit. In October 2015, upon discovering a fresh elephant carcass the ranger teams were able to enlist the help of the villages close to the incident to track down, and subsequently arrest, the individuals responsible and confiscate the ivory and meat.

Elephant poachers are still a risk to Ziama, but the forest rangers are now equipped and motivated to address the threat. Thanks to the success of this initial phase of support, other donors have stepped in to keep them operational, and the government of Guinea, after the end of the Ebola outbreak, has shown a renewed interest in the conservation of these last remaining elephants.

With support from the ECF forest guards in Guinea's Ziama Reserve have become an effective force against poachers.