Poachers Killed More than 100,000 Elephants in 3 Years
The insatiable demand for ivory is causing a dramatic decline in the number of African elephants. Poachers are hunting the animal faster than it can reproduce, with deaths affecting more than half of elephant families in the Samburu National Reserve in Kenya, a new study finds.
In 2011, the worst African elephant poaching year on record since 1998, poachers killed an estimated 40,000 elephants, or about 8 percent of the elephant population in Africa. In the absence of poaching, African elephant populations grow about 4.2 percent each year, the researchers found based on detailed records from Samburu.
Poachers killed an average of 33,630 elephants every year from 2010 to 2012, resulting in more than 100,000 deaths across the continent, the study found. Illegal killings across Africa decreased somewhat in 2010, but they were still higher than pre-2009 levels, the researchers reported. As more elephants are poached, the number of governmental seizures of illegal ivory increase, and the black market price of ivory goes up.
Poaching rates for ivory are unsustainable and exceed the natural growth rate of wild elephants. “This means that elephant populations currently decline by nearly 60 to 70 percent every 10 years, making it likely for the species to go extinct in the near future if poaching and the illegal ivory trade are not stopped,”.
Much of the ivory demand comes from China and Southeast Asia. Many people see ivory as a status symbol and an artistic investment, especially for religious renditions, whereas others turn to ivory for mass-consumption products, such as bracelets and chopsticks.
A similar ivory boom in the late 1970s and 1980s tapered out when 115 countries opted to ban the international trade of ivory in 1989. Today, researchers hope that conservation organizations, as well as high-profile advocates such as Chinese basketball player Yao Ming, will help to stem the ivory demand.