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A Flourishing Family

Elephant sightings have shown protection efforts by player-supported charity Fauna & Flora International and its local partners are a lifeline for wildlife
FFI has been protecting African forest elephants and other species in Guinea for over a decade (Image Credit: Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and our local partner in Guinea, Centre Forestier de de N’Zérékoré (CFZ))

Three African forest elephant calves have been spotted in new camera trap images taken in Guinea. This has marked a major boost for a critically endangered species in a country where elephants remain on the brink of local extinction.

The photos, captured by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) camera traps in the Ziama Forest, show an elephant family of eight which FFI's team of conservationists had not seen before. The photos are a hugely encouraging sign that FFI's efforts to protect forest corridors for this super-rare species - with support from local partners Centre Forestier N'Zérékoré and funding from our players - is helping to secure the elephants' future.

African forest elephants are smaller than the better-known savannah elephant usually seen in nature documentaries. They live only in densely-forested areas, making them very hard to spot. Forest elephants were recognised as a separate species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in March of this year. IUCN now lists them as 'critically endangered' - the highest category before 'extinction in the wild'.

Cause For Celebration

Signs of a flourishing family, complete with calves, as these photos reveal is a real cause for celebration.

FFI, the world's oldest international conservation organisation, has been protecting African 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. 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. Working with local communities, FFI is helping to find ways for people and wildlife to 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, including ginger, as 'buffers' to protect staple crops such as rice.

Thanks to funding 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 occur 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.

Cutting Carbon

Importantly, protecting Ziama's ancient forest is not just good for elephants and pangolins - it's good for our planet's climate too. Intact forest habitats such as this one 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.

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 African forest elephant is still 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 African 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."

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Published: 23/07/2021

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