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Here’s Why Gabon’s Elephants are Going Hungry

The African tropics host many of the remaining megafauna or large animals like gorillas, elephants and hippos, but they are now losing ground. African forest elephants, for instance, have a population just 10% of their potential size, occupying 25% of their potential range. Knowing how much influence these large animals have on the functioning of our world – and how vulnerable they are to extinction – it’s more important than ever to monitor and restore the health of their remaining populations and the safe havens that support them. Lopé National Park has a rich diversity of wildlife, including forest elephants, chimpanzees, gorillas and mandrills. Many of these wildlife species rely on wild forest fruits for food. In a recently published paper researchers analysed 32 years of valuable data about tree behaviour and found that – between 1986 and 2018 – there was a massive collapse in fruiting events. Their analysis found that there was an 81% decline in the probability of encountering ripe fruit. This means that, on average, elephants and other animals would have found ripe fruit on one in every 10 trees in the 1980s, but need to search more than 50 trees today. We found matching declines in flowering too, indicating that the problem is not pollination or fruit maturation but something earlier on in the chain of fruit production.