By Alex Crawford, Africa Correspondent SKY NEWS 12 Feb 2014
The battle to save the African forest elephant is reaching crisis levels.
Some, like Professor Lee White – a British-born zoologist who is among those fighting to rescue the species – already believe it is “ecologically extinct”.
And in an exclusive interview with Sky News, Prof White’s friend and ally, the Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba, told me he will be demanding “zero tolerance” from his Chinese peers regarding ivory trafficking.
Gabon has lost a third of its forest elephants over the past decade.
In the Minkebe National Park which lies on the border with Cameroon, the death rate is even higher.
The dense green forest, which is the size of Belgium, has seen 15,000 of its population of 22,000 killed at the hands of poachers.
They are killed for their tusks, which are then transported abroad to buyers in Asia, mostly China.
Gabon is 85% rainforest and is second only to the Amazon in size.
Speaking in the rainforest a few miles from the capital Libreville, Mr Ondimba said: “We have to educate the Chinese that one set of ivory chopsticks has meant the death of an elephant.
“The rainforest needs the elephant, we need the elephant, it is more than just a wildlife issue. And Gabon cannot do it on its own.”
Gabon now has more than half of the world’s forest elephants – and its president is desperate to ensure they survive.
He said: “The money from one dead elephant is being used by criminal gangs even terror organisations to fund their activities, so we must all do something to stop this slaughter.”
He hinted that if the Chinese refused to fall in line, there could be consequences with business contracts throughout Africa.
“It has been talked about,” he said.
“The Chinese care about their panda. We have to ensure they know we feel the same way about our African elephant.”