A project in Nigeria supported by Paignton Zoo has snapped a photo of a rare forest elephant.

This is the first photograph of a forest elephant ever taken in the Omo Forest.

Paignton Zoo Deputy Head of Education Sue Lowe explained: “People have seen signs such as dung and footprints, but until now no-one has managed to photograph an elephant in the Omo Forest."

Paignton Zoo has supported the conservation project in the Omo Forest in south-western Nigeria since 1993. It is now part of the Omo-Shasha-Oluwa Initiative, which aims to protect the wildlife of the three adjoining forests from logging and poaching.

Sue: "Elephants play an important role in the ecosystem of the forest – they spread seeds from the fruit and nuts that they eat. Some of these seeds can only germinate after they have been through the digestive system of an elephant. The elephants need the forest and the forest needs the elephants."

To get the pictures, special digital cameras triggered by heat and movement were carefully positioned in the forest.

Other mammals caught on camera include a troupe of cherry-crowned mangabeys, a red river hog (both species can be seen at Paignton Zoo), several duiker and a palm civet. More mysteriously, there was a pair of eyes belonging to an unidentified medium-sized cat-like animal and a small predator dragging prey across the forest floor.

Sue Lowe again: "The bad news is that the cameras also captured images of people illegally entering the area. We still have a lot of work to do to protect the forest and its animals from logging and poaching. But at last we have photographic evidence of elephants in the Omo Forest – evidence which could really help us secure much-needed funding from grant-giving bodies."

The forest elephant has recently been identified as a separate species from the savannah elephant. Very few populations remain, though they have been photographed in other places, such as the Congo, and elsewhere in Nigeria.

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