Conservation actions should be based on sound knowledge of the species and the threats involved. They should also be adaptable, based on the results of monitoring surveys which inform us whether the objectives are achieved. In collaboration with academic and conservation partners, WCS has striven to both improve our ecological knowledge of forest mammals and develop standardised monitoring methods.
All of Gabon’s thirteen national parks have been surveyed using traditional and more innovative survey methods that record direct or indirect signs of animal presence. This provides critical information on the abundance and distribution of target species such as elephants and great apes in each park, but also at the national scale.
In two of WCS’ key sites, the National Parks of Lopé and Ivindo, surveys repeated over a 5-year period have shown the elephant and ape populations to be relatively stable, at least until 2009. At the regional level, long-term and broad-scale trends have been also been assessed, demonstrating that over the last ten years about 65% of forest elephants have been lost, with Gabon holding approximately 50% of the remaining forest elephants.
Another monitoring method uses direct observations in forest clearings known as “bais”. As animals travel large distances to feed in the clearings, bais are effectively a window into the forest. Bai monitoring collects data on the mammals, including elephants, gorillas and buffalo. For elephants, observed changes in the population act as an early detection of poaching occurs across the landscape, as older male elephants are targeted for their bigger tusks. WCS runs several bai monitoring programs in Central Africa, with the longest term projects at Langoué Bai in Gabon, Mbeli Bai in Republic of Congo, and Dzanga-Sangha bai in the Republic for Central Africa. These have been combined with tourism projects, as they offer almost guaranteed opportunities to see some of Africa’s most charismatic forest mammals in the wild. We have also used a combination of monitoring techniques across networks of bais within a landscape, to show how individual elephants use this forest resource. In collaboration with the Elephant Listening Project, acoustic techniques are used as a complementary tool at bais. The number of elephant calls recorded at a bai provides a rapid assessment of the importance of the bai for elephants, and therefore the need for targeted protection.