More Than 11,000 Elephants Poached In Gabon In Past Decade, Officials Estimate

The West African nation of Gabon has one of the largest populations of elephants in the world, yet now they’re in danger of being wiped out for their ivory.

The World Wildlife Fund reports that a study done by itself in cooperation with the Gabonese National Parks Agency and the Wildlife Conservation Society found that up to 11,000 elephants were killed by poachers in Gabon since 2004. That may be up to 77 percent of the total population.

Most of the killings took place in and around Minkébé National Park, a vast and remote area that’s supposed to be a safe haven for wildlife.

The area is home to forest elephants, which are especially prized by poachers because their ivory is unusually hard and has a pink tinge to it, making it more profitable to sell on the international black market.

As we reported last month, the illegal ivory trade rose to its highest level ever in 2011. This is mainly due to a rising demand in Asia. While some African nations are investing in more law enforcement, corruption in both Africa and Asia is keeping the illegal trade in ivory alive.

Is it any wonder that another recent study found that elephants try to avoid humans?

The WWF is circulating a petition to stop ivory trade in Thailand. It says in part, “Thailand is also the biggest unregulated market for ivory in the world. Although it is against the law to sell ivory from African elephants in Thailand, ivory from domestic Thai elephants can be sold legally. As a result, massive quantities of illegal African ivory are being laundered through Thai shops.”

The petition already has more than 200,000 signatures, including mine. They’re trying to get to a million.

[Image of forest elephant in Ivindo National Park, Gabon, courtesy Peter H. Wrege]

Video: Babongo Funeral

The Babongo people, or Bongo people, in Gabon, lead fascinating lives that are wildly different from the lives many of us lead in Western civilization. The Babongo funeral is an example of this. When BBC’s Bruce Parry went to Gabon to explore, a woman and a baby died in the village he was visiting shortly after his arrival. He and his crew (one member of which was Jonathan Clay, who hosts the above video on his Vimeo account) accepted an invitation to stay and decided to film the funeral festivities. Beginning with abundant grief, the village dismisses the spirits of the dead with drumming, dancing and other rituals. This short clip from BBC’s “Tribe” is distressing and informative. After all, how we honor our dead reflects how we define ourselves.

One for the Road: Uncommon Traveler

My mom is a children’s librarian and often introduces me to great travel titles for kids. The other day I was helping hang posters at her elementary school library when I spotted this book displayed on a top shelf: Uncommon Traveler is the true story of Mary Kingsley, born in England in 1862. Her father was a family physician who traveled the world caring for his wealth patrons, while Mary led a busy, sheltered life at home tending to her ill mother. But at the age of 30, both parents deceased, Mary was free to travel, and headed to West Africa.

The book has beautiful illustrations of Mary crossing dangerous ravines, battling an eight-foot croc and trekking with her guides through the forest towards the Remboue River (near what is now Gabon.) She took two journeys to West Africa, in 1893 and 1894, and developed a close relationship with members of the Fang tribe during her visits. She died during her third trip to the continent, while in South Africa as a volunteer nurse. Author and illustrator Don Brown has done a wonderful job capturing her bravery and spirit. Do you know of other children’s books that tell the stories of great women travelers?