WCS carried out many of the very first surveys of forest elephants in Central Africa in the late 1980s, and has since used forest elephants as the key species on which many protected areas have been gazetted. The only long-term (over 20 years) study of over 3000 forest elephants, focusing on their behaviour and social life, is entirely due to WCS scientist, Andrea Turkalo. The most wide-reaching and the most up-to-date publications on forest elephant populations, movements, distribution, and conservation status have been coordinated by WCS scientists, covering the problems of the crisis itself, the issues around roads and hunter access, and most recently a taxon-specific assessment in 2013.

Forest elephant populations are at their lowest levels ever. We envisage three main goals: a population goal, where we arrive at a population of at least 100,000 elephants again by the year 2020; a distribution goal, where the range currently (2013)  occupied by forest elephants, and present connectivity is maintained, at least by 2020; and a population structure goal where the selective losses of the largest-tusked oldest- and therefore most knowledgable- individuals to poaching are stemmed by 2016.

The greatest rangewide threat to forest elephants is by far and away poaching for ivory. It is estimated that only about 10% of historic populations remain and that they have lost three-quarters of their original range. Just in the years 2002-2011, over 60% of all forest elephants were killed for their ivory- that's about 55 elephants a day- and they lost a third of their range over the same short period. This threat is still ongoing, and, indeed, increasing. A future threat will be the conversion of large tracts of forest to palm oil and other industrial agricultural plantations in the next ten years, which will further reduce safe habitats for elephants to feed and to roam freely. However the immediate and critical threat at present is the ivory poaching crisis, which must at all costs be dealt with or the remaining forests in ten years time will be empty forests, bereft of elephants.

The three main strands are (i) stopping the killing of elephants in the forests and savannas throughout their range, by improving antipoaching and intelligence efforts on the ground, in partnership with the wildlife authorities in each country, other NGOs, and the private sector  such as indistrial logging companies within whose lands elephants occur. The second strand is (ii) a focus on stopping ivory trafficking all along the chain from the African sources through the transit points right to the destinations in the far East, again by improving intelligence networks, and by partnering with Customs, police, national legal authorities and NGOs to support them with technical help and training. Finally (iii) we work to stop the demand for ivory in the Far East, with a new and powerful social media campaign. We are working with a powerful consortium of international and national partners under the Clinton Global Initiative to achieve our goals.