Gabon: declaring war on elephant poachers has been highly successful

It seems that if you want to carry out a successful conservation programme to protect elephants on the African continent you’ve got to commit to and declare war on poachers. It also seems to me that no other country in Africa has committed to eradicating poaching of elephants than Gabon’s two leading conservationists namely President Ondimba and his Minister of the Environment and Maritime Affairs, an Englishman from Manchester, Professor Lee White who travelled to Gabon as a student in 1989. They make an unlikely pair but a highly successful one.

Gabon Elephants
Gabon Elephants. Photo: Forest Elephant Group

The two environmentalists have demonstrated a ferocious commitment to protecting elephants. They have variously done the following:

  1. Employed squads of armed park rangers who have been trained and equipped by the British Army;
  2. Enacted tough pro-environment legislation which I presume is enforced;
  3. Jailed ivory smugglers;
  4. Kicked out illegal loggers;

But they have allowed businesses to exploit the forest to a limited extent in order, in the words of the president, “to save the forest”. He believes that in order to save the forest you have to demonstrate that it has a value to the people and then they will value it provided they employ good forest management practices.

When President Ondimba took over the presidency from his father after a 42-year rule, poaching, gold mining, bush meat hunters and illegal logging all threatened the future of elephants in the country.

President Ondimba spent months alone deep in the forest living with the animals and then chose the Mancunian zoologist Prof White to help him in protecting the elephants. Over the past 10 years they have managed to increase the country’s elephant population to more than 95,000 while in neighbouring countries the populations have fallen by 50%.

The elephant population of Gabon represents roughly 60-70% of the total global population. Gabon has bucked the trend of the freefall of forest elephant numbers and they are believed to be present across 90% of this central African country’s landscape.

They show the world that it can be done but it can only be done on my reading of the report through complete commitment followed by an absolute war on the poachers. You can’t take half-hearted measures.

Gabon is also the most carbon positive country in the world. Their equatorial forest is more valuable than the Amazon Forest because it is of better quality. The forest is the second largest after the Amazon and there was concern that it might be destroyed by 2020 but they turned the tide. The forest provides a rich environment where plant and animal species can thrive and where new species are being discovered.

Gabon is going to be used as a model at Cop27 this November in Egypt. They want to save the rest of the equatorial forest mainly in Democratic Republic of the Congo which is disappearing fast as peasant farmers slash and burn it.

President Ondimba said that his challenge was to convince his people that “a tree left living is more valuable than a tree cut down; an animal left alive is more valuable than one dead”. Wise words.

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Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Speciesism - 'them and us' | Cruelty - always shameful
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