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African elephants: Numbers continue to go down due to poaching

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Poaching elephants for their ivory continues to be a big problem, and it’s getting worse. BBC News reported on Monday, Aug. 18, that the number of African elephants that are being killed is now higher than the number of elephants being born.

In the latest issue of “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” researchers suggest that if these numbers continue the elephant may be extinct within the next 100 years. In the ‘70s the number of elephants in Africa was 1.3 million. That number now has dropped down to 500,000.

This study, done in Samburu, Kenya, was led by George Wittemyer of Colorado State University. The findings include that between 2010 and 2013 there was an average of 7 percent elephant loss. In 2011, illegal killings hit a high of about 40,000 elephants that year, which is 8 percent. Elephant births, on the other hand, only account for 5 percent increase of the population yearly.

Poaching was once done by locals to help provide for their family, CBS News reported, but now many of those who come to the area are using advanced equipment and are able to kill elephants in large numbers. The desire for ivory continues to grow and is referred to as “white gold.” A kilogram of ivory is now worth thousands of dollars, and a single elephant is said to be worth $2,000 to $2,500. Poachers kill about 25,000 elephants a year.

The biggest buyer of ivory is Asia, specifically China. In China ivory is used as a status symbol, and is used in artwork and religious icons. Earlier this year China authorities destroyed six tons of illegal ivory.

"I think clearly China is driving this, or it's coming from the Far East," said Ian Craig, who heads the conservation efforts in the Northern Rangelands Trust. "Ninety percent of the ivory being picked up in Nairobi Airport, or Kenya's port of entry and exit, is with Chinese nationals."

Conservationists are fighting hard to get poaching under control. Kenya, for example, has spent millions on arming its ranger force. This includes trained dogs, GPS tracking collars for the elephants, digital radios systems and underpasses for elephants to travel under highways safely.

There is a call for action to protect these magnificent animals on a global level. Craig said, "The supply here is finite. This isn't gold. This isn't diamonds. This is even more precious, because it's been grown by an animal, and we're killing that animal to supply that demand."