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Survival of African elephants in jeopardy due to ivory trade

The plight of the African elephant is dismal, with more elephants killed each year by poachers than are born. At the current rate of about a two percent reduction annually, researchers have determined that the elephant will become extinct.

African elephants in Tanzania
African elephants in Tanzania
Karin Leperi
African elephants
African elephants
Karin Leperi

This was the assessment of a peer-review study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study was co-authored by experts from Save the Elephants, the Kenya Wildlife Service, an international group called MIKE responsible for monitoring the illegal killings of elephants, and two international universities.

Though there is no accurate way to count the number of African elephants in the wild, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates the number to be from 470,000-690,000. And that number continues to shrink as the price and demand for ivory increases in China and other Asian nations. (It is estimated that poachers killed an estimated 100,000 elephants across Africa between 2010 and 2012).

The study also determined there has been a substantial and proportional increase in the number of illegally killed elephants, from 25 percent a decade ago to about 65 percent of all elephant deaths today. But what is alarming, is that the highest death rate is in central Africa, followed by East Africa which includes Tanzania and Kenya. For example, the population of elephants in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve has dropped from 40,000 to 13,000 over the last three years.

The situation in Africa is particularly precarious since both the male and female elephant grow the highly-in-demand tusks. (In Asia, only the male elephant grows tusks). This is the biggest threat to the survival of the African elephant. And as a herbivore, elephants require large tracts of savannahs and grasslands in order to survive. With the increasing destruction of habitat, conflict, and poaching, the sustainability of the African elephant will require protection if it is to survive in the wild.