Over the past two months, WCS fitted six elephants with GPS/satellite collars in Nigeria's Yankari Game Reserve. The collars are providing real-time tracking of elephant herds, allowing ranger teams to shadow the elephants at all times and alert the reserve manager whenever elephants are in danger or stray outside the reserve.
Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi State contains Nigeria’s largest elephant population, currently estimated at around 100 animals. Since 2014, Yankari has been co-managed through a partnership agreement between WCS and Bauchi State Government, with funding support from Bauchi State, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Elephant Crisis Fund, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Thanks to focused law enforcement efforts and community engagement programs, the last recorded incident of an elephant being killed in Yankari was in 2015, bringing previously high poaching levels down to a zero over the past four years.
Once widespread across much of Nigeria's rainforests and savannas, elephants are now restricted to a few protected areas in the country. Elephants are threatened by habitat loss, human-elephant conflict and particularly by the illegal ivory trade. Elephants have been extensively persecuted in Nigeria for their ivory tusks for many years. The tusks are highly-prized for traditional purposes, but by far the greatest threat is poaching to supply the lucrative ivory market in Asia.
“The satellite collars tell me where the elephants are at all times," said Nachamada Geoffrey, WCS Landscape Director in Yankari Game Reserve and Resort. "So this is a really exciting new development for us. I can use this real-time information from the GPS/satellite collars to send ranger teams to exactly where the elephants are making sure they receive the maximum level of protection possible. The use of satellite collars has also allowed us to react more quickly whenever elephants stray outside the reserve, and has helped reduce levels of crop damage and human-elephant conflict. We manage the information on elephant locations with strict confidentiality to ensure their safety at all times.”
Chief veterinarian on the project Dr Richard Harvey said: “The elephants were in good condition, with animals of various ages and plenty of juveniles and calves. The herd is reproducing well, which is great news for the future of elephants, and for the Yankari ecosystem overall.”
While progress in Yankari and other areas such as Cross River National Park is encouraging, with porous borders and weak enforcement, Nigeria has become a notorious center for the illegal trade in ivory to China and Vietnam transiting through Nigeria from other areas in Africa. Nigeria also has a flourishing domestic trade in ivory, sold mainly to Chinese visitors, even though the export of ivory from Nigeria is strictly prohibited by the Government and by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Flora and Fauna (CITES).
Said Dr. Chris Thouless, Director of the Elephant Crisis Fund and Strategic Advisor to Save the Elephants: “We are proud to support WCS’s work in Yankari Game Reserve and the progress in securing this critical population is of regional conservation significance” “That said, we strongly urge the Government of Nigeria to close down the domestic trade in ivory as soon as possible and to ensure that trafficking of ivory through Nigeria from neighboring countries is completely halted.”