Africa’s Elephants Rapidly Declining As Poaching Thrives

HONOLULU (AP) — The number of savanna elephants in Africa is rapidly declining and the animals are in danger of being wiped out as international and domestic ivory trades drive poaching across the continent, according to a study released Wednesday.

Africa’s savanna elephant population plummeted by about 30 percent from 2007 to 2014 and is declining at about 8 percent a year, said a survey funded by Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul Allen.

“If we can’t save the African elephant, what is the hope of conserving the rest of Africa’s wildlife?” elephant ecologist Mike Chase, the lead researcher, said in a statement. “I am hopeful that, with the right tools, research, conservation efforts and political will, we can help conserve elephants for decades to come.”

The aerial survey covered 18 countries using dozens of airplanes to fly the equivalent of going to the moon and partway back. The study, known as the Great Elephant Census and involving 90 scientists, estimated a population of 352,271 savanna elephants.

Overall, researchers spotted about 12 carcasses for every 100 live elephants, indicating poaching at a high enough level to cause population decline. But the rates were much higher than that in some countries.

Angola, Mozambique and Tanzania experienced greater population declines than previously known, and elephants face local extinction in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon and Zambia, the study said. It also says numbers of elephants in South Africa, Uganda and parts of Malawi and Kenya were stable or partly increasing.

Results of the study were announced ahead of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress in Honolulu.
Allen, who provided $7 million for the effort, said he decided to launch the census after hearing three years ago that there had not been a comprehensive count of African elephants in decades.

“I took my first trip to Africa in 2006 and have been fascinated by elephants ever since,” he said. “They are intelligent, expressive and dignified — but not to be underestimated. So, as this latest poaching crisis began escalating, I felt compelled to do something about it.”

The research team used the limited existing data as a baseline for the study. But this survey is more comprehensive and will serve as a more reliable baseline for future observations, the team said.

Its methodology involves manually counting animals while maintaining a specific altitude and following calibrated strips of land below the plane. The method is widely used for surveying animals on large plots of land and was the most accurate method of three tested on a known population in Africa, Chase said. The team also used video surveillance when counting big herds.

Elephants are threatened by ivory trading, which is banned internationally. But the domestic trade of ivory within countries is legal nearly everywhere.

A motion being considered at the Hawaii conference seeks to change that by gaining international consensus to close all domestic ivory markets, noting that illegal killing of elephants for their tusks threatens national security, hinders economic development and endangers those tasked with protecting the animals.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced their commitment last year to combatting wildlife trafficking. The leaders promised to work toward a nearly complete ban on ivory imports and exports and an end to the domestic ivory trade.

The decline in savanna elephants, like the dwindling numbers of African forest elephants, is directly tied to criminal poaching activities, some with ties to terrorist groups, according to Washington’s nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency.

“Trade in ivory has been a driver of destabilization wherever it occurs in Africa,” agency President Allan Thornton said.

Thornton said one-time auctions of stockpiled ivory to China and Japan in 2008 resulted in a spike in illegal poaching, and the rate of decline among Africa’s elephants has been accelerating since.

In areas with a high rate of population decline, the savanna turns into an overgrown thicket devoid of grasslands that sustain other wildlife and becomes overrun by disease-carrying tsetse flies, said James Deutsch, director of Allen’s Vulcan Inc. Wildlife Conservation.

Furthermore, that land becomes useless for tourism when the elephants are removed, he said.

“Once you remove elephants from parks, it becomes very hard to gain the political will to maintain those parks,” Deutsch said. “So, often the parks end up being neglected.”

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(© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


One Comment

  1. gladysa says:

    if the africans won’t or can’t take care of the wildlife, the world needs to step in and remove it to safer venues. texas and oklahoma could take a lot of elephants, giraffes, etc. leaving these animals to become extinct is unconscionable.

  2. Mike says:

    Thank you Mr. Paul Allen for your efforts on behalf of these gentle giants who have no voice & are being slaughtered by humans in the 21st century. What a shame for the human race who are standing by and witnessing destruction of one of the most fantastic animals on earth.
    When we are desensitized to pain and suffering of humans being slaughtered in Syria, how can we expect anyone to lift a finger for these beautiful, smart & as Mr. Allen said dignified creatures? Shame on those African governments who are doing nothing about their precious animals.

    1. kim says:

      You have a man like Mr. Paul Allen who uses his wealth for the betterment of the planet, as compared to the two “entitled” son’s of Mr Trump who with all their considerable money, travel to Africa to trophy hunt elephants.
      My goal isn’t to inject politics into this sad situation, rather just highlight the priorities of some people who with vast fortunes might could possible make a difference.

  3. abc says:

    Chinese are real culprits

  4. Dee Jayson says:

    Solution: Set up gun-free zone for protection of wildlife, no exceptions. Break zone into 4 quadrants. Hire 12 snipers and assign 3 to each zone, on rotating 8 hour shifts. Anyone with a gun in these zones is fair game. Now the game becomes interesting!

    1. FranH says:

      I’m with you. Poachers should be shot on site. In fact, anyone without a permit to be in these reservations should be. If they aren’t authorized they have no business being there.

  5. Karek says:

    The only real way to save the elephants is for African governments to put every ounce of confiscated ivory on the market – immediately. Hoarding poached tusks by the ton has artificially created this huge demand. By placing tons of ivory on sale, the glut will crash the market, drive the price for ivory down to negligible levels and make it financially unprofitable to kill elephants, thus saving them. The current approach clearly is not working, folks, no matter how noble it might appear to be, and is going to make elephants extinct. Time for a major change in tactics that will undercut the demand and put the poachers out of business.

  6. Unless the demand for ivory from Asian countries ends, the elephants don’t stand a chance. Instead of getting on the cases of African countries that have elephants and incredibly impoverished populations, let’s get on the cases of the countries that buy the ivory. Can you say China? Demand has dropped a little in China, but they are to blame more than any other country.

    1. FranH says:

      It is impossible to stop China or other countries from buying and selling ivory. As far as I’m concerned, just kill poachers on site. In fact I don’t even mind if the death penalty is applied to distributors caught with ivory. That may sound extreme but the reality is, a few less people on this world would not be a bad thing, while more elephants and larger tracks of land unpopulated by humans would be a great thing.

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