Elephant Poaching Results in 100,000 Deaths Over Three Years

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According to a new study over the span of three years, poachers have killed 100,000 elephants in their search for Ivory. In 2011, it is believed that per every twelve African elephants one was killed by a poacher. The most popular place for poacher on the African continent is central Africa, where the elephant population declined by 64 per cent in just a decade. The study was published in the August issue of Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, was led by George Wittemyer of Colorado State University and included regional and local elephant population estimates. According to these estimates, nearly three-quarters of local elephant populations face a rapid decline.

The decline is a result of the demand for ivory in Asia, especially China, where ivory is seen as a status symbol and is a popular gift. Ivory is alternatively known as white gold, and in China, the rising middle class drives the demand for ivory. George Wittemyer believes that the current economic situation in Africa and the increase in the black market price of ivory drives citizens to take on elephant poaching, despite it being a highly illegal activity in the region.

The study relied on data of illegally killed elephants maintained by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and is the first large scale analysis of elephant poaching. Although poaching is a well-known problem among conservationists with significant implications for the future of the African elephants, it is nearly impossible to quantify the number of elephants that is actually killed by poachers every year. As poachers incorporate the use of automatic weapons to kill elephants, they are able to commit mass killings at a time, however, use of poison-tipped arrow still remains a popular way to hunt. In February, a popular Kenyan elephant was killed by a poison-tipped arrow, and just three months later, another of Kenya’s popular elephants was killed by poachers who cut off his face in order to remove his tusks. However, prior to this study, there was a lack of concrete numbers. Yet it is abysmal that over the span of three years, 100,000 elephants died as a result of elephant poaching in Africa.

Elephant poachers are particularly interested in the oldest and biggest elephants, said Wittemyer emphasizing the significance of the removal of breeding males and mothers. As elephants are abandoned, they no longer have the sense of community they can rely on. Elephants live in fission-fusion societies, with multiple families often coming together to socialize. Elephant families are tight-knit with offspring relying on the mother for as long as three years. In the wild, elephants are known to live for as long as 70 years.

Following the mass killings of elephants, United States banned the trade of commercial ivory, however more needs to be done in order to solve the problem. While most of central and east Africa saw a significant decline in the elephant population, some countries have not yet been affected by poachers. In Botswana, the elephant population is growing, while in South Africa, poachers attack rhinos but have so far left the elephant population alone. Following the release of the report that over three years, poaching resulted in 100,000 elephant deaths, many conservationists urged for more action to be taken.

By Ivelina Kunina

Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences
National Geographic
Image – Creative Commons

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