Sydney, Australia. In this interview with Professor Lee White, Director of Gabon’s National Parks, it’s easy to feel the frustration he and his team of dedicated conservationists — turned soldiers — are feeling towards the recent surge in elephant poaching, as they valiantly try to defend their African forest elephants from the battle hardened and heavily armed poachers who’ve set their sights on the West African country of Gabon.
With a population of just one and a half million people, this peaceful nation has become the focus of an intense conservation battle, as surging prices for ivory and a sharp decline in elephant populations — due to poaching in neighbouring countries - has led to the establishment of highly-organised and sophisticated networks of illegal wildlife trafficking, which are being attracted to the hardened pink ivory of Gabon’s forest elephants.
As indigenous pygmies and children get caught up in this vacuum of illicit trade and the standoff between poachers and rangers becomes increasingly volatile, human fatalities are becoming the norm as the true cost of this souring demand begins to take its toll.
Yet, despite recent moves by both the Gabonese and Chinese governments to destroy stockpiles of seized ivory, the future of the African forest elephant will ultimately come down to our ability to alert an increasingly affluent Chinese middle class to the true cost of acquiring ivory and the fallacy of its use within Chinese medicine.
Not to mention tackling the unscrupulous traders who, sensing a business opportunity, are seeking to stockpile ivory in anticipation of the elephant's extinction. Failing this, Mr White and his team will continue to be the last stand as they find themselves left on the frontline, passionately defending these magnificent and defenceless animals.