LIBREVILLE, Gabon, Feb. 7 (UPI) -- A national park in Gabon, once home to Africa's largest forest elephant population, has lost more than 11,000 of the animals to poaching, conservationists say.
The Wildlife Conservation Society in New York reported recent surveys of Minkebe National Park indicated two-thirds of its elephants have vanished since 2004 with most of the losses, blamed on the illegal ivory trade, probably occurring in the last five years.
Gabon's National Park Agency reported an increase in poaching in recent years, estimating 50-100 elephants were being killed daily since 2011 as a result of increases in demand for ivory from the Far East.
"This sad news from Gabon confirms that without a global commitment, great elephant populations will soon become a thing of the past," WCS President Cristian Samper said. "We believe that elephants can still be saved -- but only if nations greatly increase their efforts to stop poaching while eliminating the illegal ivory trade through better enforcement and reduced demand."
Gabon's government said it would introduce new legislation to combat ivory poaching by increasing prison terms to a minimum of three years for ivory poachers and 15 years for poaching and ivory trafficking involving organized crime.