Africa is experiencing a huge spike in elephant deaths due rising demand for ivory in China and other Asian nations. A new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that poachers killed an estimated 100,000 elephants across Africa between 2010 and 2012. A decade ago 25% of all elephant deaths were due to illegal killings, however that figure has risen to 65% today – and if it continues it will lead to extinction of the species.
The study, co-authored by experts from Save the Elephants, the Kenya Wildlife Service, MIKE (an international group that monitors the illegal killing of elephants), and two international universities, shows that elephant deaths are not happening at the same rate across Africa. The highest death rate is in central Africa, with East Africa (Tanzania and Kenya) not far behind. The elephant population in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve dropped from 40,000 to 13,000 over the last three years. Botswana, on the other hand, is a bright spot, with a population that is holding steady or growing. In South Africa rhinos are being killed, but poachers have not yet begun attacking elephants.
China’s rising middle class and surging demand for ivory is driving the black market price up, which has made impoverished people in Africa “willing to take the criminal risk on and kill elephants.” China is aware of its image problem concerning the ivory trade. In a gesture of goodwill, this month the Chinese embassy in Kenya donated anti-poaching equipment to four wildlife conservancies. At the handover ceremony, Chinese Ambassador Liu Xianfa said that his country is increasing publicity and education to increase understanding of the illegal ivory trade.
Despite the huge death toll, the study’s lead authors George Wittemyer of Colorado State University and Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants, believe elephants can survive. Wittemyer admits that more elephants will be killed, but in areas where countries are willing to invest in wildlife security, numbers will hold steady. Elephants survived a huge poaching crisis in the 1970s and 1980s fueled by Japan, Douglas-Hamilton noted. “I have to be an optimist,” he said. “I’ve been through all of this before in the 70s and 80s. As a collective group we stopped that killing, and in the savannahs there was a reprieve of 20 years. I believe we can do it again.”
Via Huffington Post
Photos by Gorgo (Photo taken by author) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons and by Jan Arkesteijn (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons