Study uncovers a heightened threat to African forest elephants

Forest elephants

Conservation efforts for the African forest elephant have languished by how little is known about the very large animal, but a recent study from a research team involving a UO biological anthropologist could help address that.

Associate professor Nelson Ting said the study offers new information that could help people better understand and protect the endangered elephants as they face increasing threats to their existence. The team’s most striking finding suggests that the overall population of forest elephants is much lower than previously estimated, making their continued survival even more threatened.

The international team’s research provides valuable insights into the population size and social behavior of forest elephants, two important factors that have been left poorly understudied, even as the elephant’s population has dramatically declined over recent decades from human-related activities like habitat loss and poaching.

The new paper was published recently in the journal PLOS ONE. Ting played a senior role in directing the study, which was led by UO graduate student Colin Brand and Gabonese scientist Mireille Johnson and featured various collaborators from the Smithsonian Institution.

It was the elusive nature of the colossal animals that first piqued Ting’s curiosity with the forest elephant. He was studying primates in the jungles of Central Africa and grew intrigued by how little was known about the several-ton mammals that roamed the same forests where he was conducting research.

When he started exploring a research partnership with Johnson, who specializes in forest elephants, he was instantly excited about contributing to a project that could build the knowledge base about the endangered animal.

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