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WCS Forest Elephant Expert Identifies Two Elephant Matriarchs Poached from Field Site

  • Matriarchs belived to be among 26 elephants killed in 2013
  • WCS’s Andrea Turkalo has identified more than 4,000 individual elephants over 20 years in Dzanga Bai in Central Africa Republic

PHOTOS: Aida I and Phyllis I with their calves in Dzanga Bai in Central African Republic.  Both matriarchs have been recently identified by WCS’s Andrea Turkalo as among 26 animals killed by poachers in a 2013 incident. Credit: Andrea Turkalo/WCS

NEW YORK (March 23, 2016) – WCS’s Andrea Turkalo, one of the world’s foremost experts on forest elephants, recently released information about two animals from her study site believed to be killed in 2013 when poachers from the Seleka rebel group infiltrated the Dzanga Bai forest clearing and slaughtered some 26 animals.

Turkalo had to flee the site but eventually returned in 2014.  Since then, she has been observing study animals trying to piece together which animals were killed and which ones survived.

Turkalo said two well-known matriarchs are now almost certainly dead. One of the matriarchs, named Aida I, has not been observed in the clearing whereas her daughter Aida II is now observed on a regular basis.  Prior to Turkalo’s leaving she always observed Aida I and II together.  The other matriarch missing is Phyllis I. Her daughter Phyllis II has been seen regularly in the bai along with her three offspring, but Phyllis is absent.

“After a year and a half I can say that two of the well-known matriarchs were probably killed by Seleka,” said Turkalo. “Many individuals visit the bai on a regular basis and when their presence ceases after a certain time period we can assume that they have been poached or in the case of older individuals have died.  This is especially true in the case of females who visit with their family groups.”

Turkalo says the status of male elephants is more difficult to determine because they are solitary and have no fixed family associations.  Occasionally she observes young males with their maternal groups but these associations are very short term lasting not more than a day.  The larger males also have been hunted selectively for their ivory so poaching has also affected their numbers.

A couple of months ago Turkalo was pleasantly surprised when she encountered a male elephant named Ahmed she hadn’t seen in eight years. “I was sure it was an illusion,” Turkalo said.  “Generally after such a long time we can assume an animal is dead but as Ahmed proves there are exceptions.”

Turkalo continues observations to tease out possible other individuals which fell from Seleka bullets. Poaching continues to be a problem in such a high elephant density site despite the departure of Seleka from the area.  WCS estimates 96 elephants are killed each day in Africa by poachers.

WCS is working with the local government agencies to control the poaching and increase protection. And in other key sites for African elephants WCS has been increasing support to rangers using SMART (the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) technology and aerial surveillance.

A recent study showed that even under severe poaching pressure elephants show some social resiliency, and when family members are eliminated the remaining members assume leadership roles for the remaining group.  The Dzanga forest elephant population is no exception and even before the poaching event in 2013 Turkalo was seeing remainders of groups who had obviously been affected by poaching establishing a new hierarchy between the older females of the group.  However, another recent WCS co-authored study shows that loss of older forest elephant matriarchs is probably already impacting forest ecology, social structure and population dynamics of the remaining elephants.

“The survival of this species depends on sociality as well as collective knowledge of their environment and resources,” says Turkalo.


WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society)

MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in nearly 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: newsroom.wcs.org Follow: @WCSNewsroom. For more information: 347-840-1242.


96 Elephants
WCS is leading global efforts to save Africa’s elephants and end the current poaching and ivory trafficking crisis. In September, WCS launched its 96 Elephants campaign (www.96elephants.org) to amplify and support the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) “Partnership to Save Africa’s Elephants” by stopping the killing, stopping the trafficking, and stopping the demand. The WCS campaign focuses on: securing effective moratoria on domestic sales of ivory; bolstering elephant protection; and educating the public about the link between ivory consumption and the elephant poaching crisis.