Three forest elephant calves have been spotted in new camera trap images taken in Guinea, marking a major boost for a critically endangered species – and in a country where elephants remain on the brink of local extinction.
The photos, captured by Fauna & Flora International camera traps in the Ziama Forest, show an elephant family of eight, which FFI’s team of conservationists have not seen before. The photos are a hugely encouraging sign that FFI’s efforts, with the support of local partners Centre Forestier N’Zérékoré and funding raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, to protect ‘forest corridors’ for these rare elephants are helping to secure the elephants future.
Forest elephants are smaller than the better-known savanna elephant we usually see in nature documentaries. They only live in densely-forested areas, making them very hard to spot. Forest elephants were only recognised as a separate species by the IUCN (the organisation that monitors global species populations) as recently as March this year. The IUCN listed them as ‘critically endangered’, the highest category before ‘extinction in the wild’.
Signs of a flourishing family, complete with calves, like these photos reveal are a real cause for celebration.
Neus Estela Ribera, Fauna & Flora International’s landscape manager in Guinea, said: "You never know what you’re going to get when you put out camera traps and go through the images – but three forest elephant calves in one group was amazing to see.
"This is likely a new group that has come across the border from Liberia. The fact there are three young elephants with them is a great sign as it suggests the population is growing because their forest habitat in this area of Guinea has been better protected.
"The forest elephant is in danger, but there is hope. We know what to do to protect them. Working with local communities and with generous support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, we can turn the tide and save these incredible animals from extinction."
Laura Chow, head of charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, said: "I’m delighted funding raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery is protecting the critically endangered forest elephant, and also mitigating climate change by safeguarding ecosystems that lock up carbon emissions.
"Players have supported this work as part of our Postcode Climate Challenge initiative, which is supporting 12 charities with an additional £24 million for projects tackling climate change this year.
"The climate and nature emergencies facing us are inextricably linked. By fighting them together we can protect vital forests like Ziama, and the communities and wildlife that depend on them."
FFI, the world’s oldest international conservation organisation, has been protecting forest elephants and other species in Guinea since 2009. The population in Ziama is the last in Guinea. These forest giants require vast ranges so often criss-cross borders as this elephant family appears to have done, entering the country from neighbouring Liberia. But it is estimated that fewer than 20 individual elephants regularly come and go from Guinea.
The decline of the species in the country, as in other parts of Africa, has been driven by poaching for the ivory trade and by conflict with humans, as our population has expanded and animal habitats have shrunk. But working with local communities, FFI is helping to find ways for people and wildlife can live alongside one another in ways that benefit both.
No elephant has been poached in the area since 2016 and FFI is working closely with local communities on ways to prevent human-wildlife conflict and deforestation. This has included supporting farmers with measures that prevent elephants from eating and damaging crops, by for example, planting crops that elephants don’t like to eat, like ginger, as ‘buffers’ to protect staple crops like rice.
Thanks to funding of £2 million raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, FFI is able to gain a better understanding of the species present in Ziama Forest and other habitats, by deploying cutting edge environmental DNA (eDNA) technology. This allows conservationists to see which species are present in an area simply by testing small samples of water or soil. A recent eDNA survey in Ziama revealed the presence of no fewer than 112 species including the endangered white-bellied pangolin.
Importantly, protecting an ancient forest like Ziama is not just good for elephants and pangolins – it’s good for our planet’s climate too. Intact forest habitats like this store huge amounts of carbon, the gas that drives global warming. With the world now trying to cut carbon emissions from power plants, industry and transport to prevent catastrophic global warming, these forests are our ancient allies, helping us take carbon out of the air and locking it up. Older forests, with greater biodiversity, do this more effectively than planted forests. Protecting them is a double win; it helps wildlife and it helps cool our warming planet.
Image: Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and Centre Forestier de N’Zérékoré (CFZ).