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NATURE

Central Africa's secretive forest elephants

August 26, 1999
Web posted at: 8:40 p.m. EDT (0040 GMT)

From Correspondent Gary Strieker

DZANGA-NDOKI NATIONAL PARK, Central African Republic (CNN) -- In a forest clearing, elephants come for salt and for company.

elephant
VIDEO
CNN's Gary Strieker reports on Africa's forest elephants
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Normally shy and reclusive in the dark forest, they show little fear of observers, although some will complain by issuing a trumpet call or charging.

In the rainforests of Central Africa, these elephants have long guarded their secrets from outsiders.

"The great difficulty in studying elephants in this environment is the vegetation," says Andrea Turkalo of the Wildlife Conservation Society, who has studied forest elephants for nine years. "It's so dense that even if you get a glimpse of an elephant it's never sustained, and they usually run away as soon as they hear you."

Turkalo observes the elephants at the remote Dzanga Bai clearing, a 30-acre deposit of mineral salts beneath the sand.

It is only in such a clearing, where they gather in large numbers, that the elephants can be easily observed.

Africa's forest elephants are different from their more common savannah cousins. They're smaller, making them attractive to hunters and land-hungry farmers.

Their ivory is said to be of the highest quality. As the forest is fragmented and penetrated by human settlements, these animals are prime targets.

But for now, in this part of Central Africa, forest elephants are safe, protected by a national park that lies in a distant region with few roads and few people with guns.

It's a place where an elephant can still be curious about humans, with no reason to fear.



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