IFAW: Historic relocation of forest elephants in Côte d’Ivoire

Four elephants saved and peace and quiet restored to a whole town

International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) completed a mission this week which can only be described as mammoth and unprecedented.

From January 19 to 25, four forest elephants were safely relocated from Daloa, third city of Côte d’Ivoire, to Azagny National Park, located 400km away in the south of the country. This operation was the humane alternative solution to a conflict opposing the elephants, squeezed out of their original habitat in the Marahoué National Park, and the rural communities of Daloa.

The elephants left Daloa between January 20 and 25 and arrived after an epic journey lasting more than 13 hours. During the operation, an additional two pachyderms unfortunately died; one from cardiac arrest, the other from drowning while under anaesthetic. These are the dangers associated with this type of operation.

The 10-member team dispatched by IFAW was faced with many challenges, including tracking and locating the animals in dense vegetation offering only poor visibility, and consequently rendering approach by the capture team very risky. In this particular respect this elephant relocation is an historic first in the context of human-elephant conflict.

The Daloa elephants were released in a protected area where the authorities have bolstered security. They have joined an existing forest elephant population of about 10 individuals. Azagny National Park, formed of primal forest and marshes, is an ecosystem which is favourable to the settlement of the pachyderms. Its natural boundaries limit the risk of human incursion, and its proximity to Abidjan will allow the development of ecotourism in the park.

An elephant has been fitted with a telemetric satellite location collar which will allow the adaptation of the group to which this individual belongs to be monitored for 24 months.

“In light of the difficulties encountered during this operation we consider every release of an elephant in Azagny Park as a victory in itself. This humane solution has had a double impact: it has contributed to the protection of a species in great danger, and brought peace to the rural communities of Daloa whose fields have been regularly devastated by the elephants for the last three years,” stated Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, IFAW Director for France and Francophone Africa, at the press conference held at the Ministry of Water and Forests in Abidjan on Tuesday January 28. “The population has shown exemplary patience and their support has been crucial to carrying out this operation.”

Côte d’Ivoire is home to some of the last forest elephants, a subspecies in danger of extinction, in West Africa. For this reason every individual is precious for the survival of this population.

IFAW has responded to the call of the Ivorian government and welcomes an ethical choice: moving these elephants saved them from certain death.

Colonel GOUESSE Aïdara Lanciné, Chief of Staff at the Ministry of Water and Forests, thanked the IFAW team several times for the expertise they showed during the relocation operation.

“The relocation of elephants remains, however, a last resort. Conflicts between man and elephants can most often, and sometimes easily, be anticipated and avoided,” insisted Céline Sissler Bienvenu in conclusion. “One needs only to truly protect the habitats of these animals.”

African elephants are in a critical situation, victims of habitat loss but also of poaching. 25,000 to 50,000 elephants are massacred for their ivory each year. More than 41 tonnes of illegal elephant ivory was seized in 2013. This is the largest quantity recorded over the last 25 years. From this total, 18 seizures exceeded 800 kilos.

Note to Editors:

For more information or interviews please contact Clare Sterling at IFAW on +44 (0)20 7587 6708, mobile +44 (0)7917 507717 or email csterling@ifaw.org or Céline Sissler-Bienvenu (IFAW France) – Mobile: +33 (0)6 17 56 10 74; email: csissler@ifaw.org. High resolution images are available from www.ifawimages.com