Ivory Coast relocates forest elephants 'encroached on' by humans
Conservationists are capturing and relocating Ivory Coast elephants that were forced from their traditional habitat by encroaching humans.
It's the first such operation attempted in Africa's forests.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare has begun tranquillising elephants outside the western town of Daloa, locking them into crates, and sending them on the 10-hour drive to Assagny National Park on the southern coast.
The fund says the elephants were forced out of their original homes in Marahoue National Park by human movement, possibly related to the violence that hit the West African country after its elections in 2010. The violence lasted into 2011.
Ivory Coast has not conducted a recent census to determine how many forest elephants are left in the country, but conservationists estimate there are a few hundred. In Central Africa, the elephant populations have been devastated by poaching in recent years.
Forest elephants are smaller than the savannah elephants found in Africa's eastern and southern regions. They have more oval-shaped ears and straighter tusks, and live in dense forests stretching from Central African Republic to Liberia.
But it hasn't been easy moving the elephants to new homes. A dozen or so creatures targeted for relocation moved near Daloa two years ago and began wreaking havoc. They trampled crops and killed two people, including a small boy who accidentally stumbled upon calves, prompting their mother to attack, the fund said.
Lack of visibility in the forests increases the risks as elephants become harder to find and approach safely.
One calf is among the population to be tranquillised and moved, said the organisation.
Elephants are widely cherished as Ivory Coast's national animal. The government contacted the animal welfare organisation to solve the species' recent plight.
Officials wanted to avoid hunting the elephants and contributing to the ongoing decline of forest elephant populations throughout the region, said Celine Sissler-Bienvenu, the fund's director for Francophone Africa.
"This relocation solves a major conservation problem by contributing to the safety and well-being of both the animals and humans," Sissler-Bienvenu said.
Similar projects have been undertaken for savannah elephants in southern Africa, but until this week relocation had not been attempted for the forest elephants of West and Central Africa, the Washington-based organisation said.