Numerous eyewitness accounts and the still-flourishing ivory trade offer evidence that poachers killed the forest elephants. Poulson said that Cameroon's national road, which runs very close to the central and northern parts of the park, makes it fairly easy for Cameroonese poachers to access the park and transport their illegal haul back to their nation's largest city, Douala, which is a major hub of the international ivory trade.
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Largely because of reports of poaching in Minkébé National Park, the Gabon government raised the status of forest elephants to "fully protected" in 2011, Pouson said. That same year, the federal authorities doubled the budget of the country's Parks Agency, growing its protection staff by 300 people.
They also created the National Park Police, posting 100 military personnel permanently in Minkébé to shore up protection of the park and to attempt to quell the extermination of elephants. In 2012, Gabon became the first Central African country to burn its entire ivory stock.
Poulson said, "While these efforts are admirable and necessary, by themselves they didn't stop poaching in the area, as evidenced by continued poaching of elephants in recent years."
Guards are posted along the Cameroon-Gabon border and other important entry points, but Poulson said, "The problem is that the area is very large, and poachers will always find a way to slip through if the stakes are high enough."
Poachers obviously have not forgotten the elephants and their ivory, but Poulson and others use the word "forgotten" to describe forest elephants due to both the ongoing threats to the pachyderm's populations and the elephant's status within the conservation community. It is estimated that 100,000 forest elephants live in Gabon now.
Poulson primarily believes forest elephants are forgotten "because of the failure of the international community to recognize the forest elephant as a distinct species. Currently, IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species) only recognize the African elephant, which includes the forest and savanna subspecies, and which is listed as 'vulnerable.'"
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The argument for recognizing forest elephants as a distinct species lies in the fact that the genetic differences separating these elephants from African savanna elephants is comparable in magnitude to the differences between modern Asian elephants and the extinct mammoths.