African elephants are crossing borders between countries in the continent to escape poachers who are trying to kill them to make money on the ivory market. Many of these elephants are seeking refuge in Gabon, a country with lower poaching levels than its neighbours.
Gabon is now home to half of Africa’s remaining forest elephant population, providing a habitat for 45,000 out of the estimated 100,000 left in central Africa. Due to this, the country is also an attractive target for poachers.
However, Gabon is strongly committed to elephant preservation. The country has been able to tackle the poaching crisis due to political stability, low levels of government corruption and managed control over natural resources and elephant habitats. President Ali Bongo Ondimba has also tasked Lee White, the head of Gabon National Parks, with the mission of making elephant protection a priority for the Gabonese people.
British-born Lee White was one of the first zoologists to highlight the scale of the poaching threat in Gabon. He manages the 11 per cent of the country that is made up of national parks, and led the expansion of the Gabonese wildlife service.
The wildlife service has expanded from 60 eco-guards to more than 650, and its budget increased from $1m to $18m to pay for new vehicles, uniforms, sniffer dogs and weapons.
Despite this, poachers are still infiltrating elephant protection areas in Gabon, and the fight is by no means over.