African forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) live mostly in rain forests of Africa. The fact of working hard for over 30 years in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park (KBNP) allowed me to watch them live a sympatric life with gorillas, chimpanzees and other wildlife. Being bigger and tougher than other mammals, elephants opened paths for other mammals when moving in their habitat. When tracking gorillas for habituation or for leading tourists, we could walk smoothly on the paths that were made by elephants. New tender vegetation grew in the paths they made, which were good for gorillas to eat.
Because of lack of buffer zone around the KBNP, elephants often made a lot of crop raiding in the fields of the surrounding communities. People grow crops such as maize, sorghums, beans, soybeans, pumpkins, cassava, peanuts, banana, pineapples, tomatoes and potatoes. During harvest season, elephants always invaded agricultural fields at night and would eat half or all the crops. The Congolese wildlife authority (ICCN) had no compensatory policy. When poor farmers went to claim the damage that elephants caused, they were rejected by ICCN staff. When villagers knew that once they dare to enter the park for some needs like woods, bush meat and other resources they would be caught by anti-poaching rangers and would be punished with fines despite their poverty. This situation led to conflicts between park management and communities around the park.
It was estimated that about 450 elephants lived in the highland sector of the KBNP around Mt. Kahuzi, Mt. Biega and Tshivanga in 1991.
Devastating war caused slaughter of all of the elephants in one year during 1996-1997. Only some pictures of their footprints, backs scratching and others remain as souvenirs.
In contrast, the Republic of Gabon is a stable country. The same sub-species of bush elephants live in Gabonese national parks including the Moukalaba Doudou National Park (MDDNP). When I visited in 2013, I noticed that the elephant population is so abundant. The human population in Gabon is about 1 million of people. The law enforcement and legislation is so strict. The human population density around the MDDNP is very low. The crops raiding by elephants are very low.
Every day during the two months I spent in MDDNP for training communities and rangers about tourism, gorilla habituation and some socioeconomic impacts, when going to track a gorilla group of Papa Gentil, we walked on fresh paths made by elephants. Rangers of MDDNP were always careful and ready to run when they heard or smelt elephant odors in the surroundings.
I remembered the days I lived in the KBNP for 15 years, every time when I led tourists or when I was habituating gorillas, my trackers Pili Pili and others used to tell me to run away to avoid being squashed by elephants. Those days are things of the past now and it’s only a good memory. And I remembered our 450 elephants that were erased in one-year time in the KBNP.