As the world’s largest terrestrial mammal, the elephant has acted as a majestic symbol of the African continent for thousands of years. Besides their symbolic importance, elephants also play an important ecological role in shaping both savannah and forest ecosystems. Sadly, the future of the African elephant is far from secure given the current poaching crisis, including in West Africa. Here less than 10,000 of elephants roam the savannahs and forests today, representing only 2% of the total number of elephants on the continent (~419,000 – 650,000). Recent estimates suggest there may be as few as about 7,100 individuals. Approximately 90 per cent of the elephant range has been destroyed in West Africa.
The primary threats for West African elephants are habitat loss, human-elephant conflict and poaching. The small and already highly fragmented populations face serious threats, both in the humid forest habitats and the arid Sahel. Human encroachment, competition with livestock, civil unrest and the construction of roads and railways are further increasing the pressure on remnant elephant populations. Two-thirds of these populations number less than 100 animals and very few large and stable populations remain.