After years of being on the brink of extinction, the elephant population in Zakouma National Park in Chad, Central Africa is finally thriving.
Aside From Poaching, Zakouma Elephants Too Stressed To Reproduce
Zakouma is blessed with an exceptional landscape and ecosystem. It was declared a national park by the Chadian government in 1963.
Situated north of the Sahara Desert and above the rich tropical rainforest regions of the oil-rich nation, Zakouma provides an ideal shelter for all kinds of wildlife.
But the African elephants of Zakouma stand no chance against ruthless poachers who slaughter them for their tusks. The relentless poaching in the area, with hunters butchering the poor animals by the thousands, has led the potentially traumatized elephants to stop reproducing as well.
Through the years, the elephant population suffered a massive decline of up to 90 percent, from 4,000 elephants in 2002 to a mere 450 in 2010. Experts have projected that Zakouma's elephant population would cease to exist in a couple of years.
An Extraordinary Recovery
Concerned about the dire situation of the elephants in Zakouma, the government sought the help of African Parks (AP), a non-profit conservation organization based in South Africa.
AP installed new park directors: husband and wife Rian and Lorna Labuschagne, who have more than three decades of experience working in African reserves, such as those in Malawi and Kenya.
The Labuschagnes implemented stringent anti-poaching strategies, which included equipping rangers and community headmen with a 24-hour radio communication system and providing them with advanced combat training against Sudanese raiders, which local rumor has it are undefeated because of supernatural powers.
"Previously the park would close down for four months every year, and when it opened again, they would find 700 to 800 elephants missing. We operate in the park for 12 months of the year. We came in with a completely different strategy and put in place things like communication, proper training and satellite collars for the elephants. Immediately we began to track them," Rian explained.
Since last year, there has not been a known case of poaching inside the 19,000-square-mile African reserve. Zakouma National Park is now home to more than 500 elephants and counting. The elephants have also started to breed again, counting 70 newborns in 2016.
"Zakouma's recovery is extraordinary. The elephant population was definitely on the way out, and African Parks has saved it," Chris Thouless of Save the Elephants, a Kenya-based nonprofit organization, told the National Geographic.
China Will Ban Ivory Trade By 2017
A significant milestone for elephant conservation, China announced that it will end ivory trade by 2017. China holds the top spot for the world's biggest consumer market for wildlife products, including elephant ivory.
"I applaud China's leadership to put a clear end to its domestic ivory trade by the end of 2017. I am hopeful that the comprehensive data provided by the Great Elephant Census (GEC), along with actions taken during the recent IUCN and CITES convenings, contributed to China's decision to accelerate the deadline for the ivory ban," GEC founder Paul G. Allen said in an official statement.
Back in September 2016, the Great Elephant Census released the results of a massive two-year project. After tracking savanna elephants in 18 African countries, the GEC report revealed a disturbing 30 percent decline since 2007.