(WILDLIFE CONSERVATION/AFRICAN ELEPHANTS) In just 7 years, the African elephant population has declined at an alarming rate of 8 percent each year.
Researchers counted around 352,000 savanna elephants spanning nearly 300,00 miles, which accounts for 93 percent of all remaining elephants in the 18 countries surveyed.
They also counted an estimated 12 elephant carcasses for every 100 living elephants, suggesting the continent’s population is not only in decline, but also at an unsustainable level. These findings prove that an urgent, cohesive, worldwide approach is necessary to save these animals from extinction.
Read on to learn more about the research and ongoing conservation efforts. — Global Animal
New York Times,
The African elephant population is in drastic decline, having shrunk about 30 percent from 2007 to 2014, according to a survey published this week.
The deterioration is accelerating: Largely because of poaching, the population is dropping 8 percent a year, according to the Great Elephant Census, which was released on Wednesday.
“The findings of the Great Elephant Census show clearly that poaching is still decimating elephant herds across Africa,” Ibrahim Thiaw, the deputy executive director for the United Nations Environment Program, said about the survey.
“This practice makes no sense on any level — moral, economic or political.”
Patricia Awori, an official with the African Elephant Coalition, said, “These numbers are shocking for elephants across the continent.” She added, “It proves that an urgent, cohesive, Africa-wide approach is required to save them.”
The census results are the culmination of a $7 million undertaking financed by the philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who committed in 2010 to giving away half of his wealth, estimated at $18.6 billion this year, according to Forbes magazine.
Starting in early 2014, teams of researchers fanned out across Africa in several dozen airplanes covering nearly 290,000 miles in a quest to sample the continent’s elephant population. They counted about 352,000 savanna elephants along the way, accounting for 93 percent of all those remaining in the 18 countries surveyed. More than half live in Botswana and Zimbabwe.
The researchers also counted elephant carcasses, finding an estimated 12 for every 100 living elephants — an unsustainable level — suggesting that the continent’s population is in decline. The count was compared with historical data to estimate the change since 2007, a turning point for the elephant population, which had grown over the previous dozen years.
Poaching is largely to blame for the population’s downward spiral, according to the census. In an effort to curb the practice, the United States this summer announced a near-total ban on the commercial trade of African elephant ivory.
David Banks, the Nature Conservancy’s Africa program director, said: “We knew that the situation was bad on the ground, but the results are worse than expected.” He added, “Even if poaching is stopped cold right now, it’ll take decades for populations to recover.”
In some cases, human encroachment appears to have forced elephants to adapt their behavior. This year, an elephant named Morgan and fitted with a GPS tracking collar surprised the researchers when he entered war-torn Somalia from Kenya and managed to live. They credited his survival to the fact that he moved mostly by night, resting in thick bush during the day.
“This is extreme behavior adapted to survive the worst-known predator on Earth: man,” Iain Douglas-Hamilton, one of the scientists closely monitoring the elephant, told The New York Times in March.
But Morgan’s story is just one hopeful tale. The researchers maintain that elephants can’t survive without stronger conservation efforts.
“Worrying won’t save elephants,” said Cristián Samper, the president and chief executive of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “Enactment of solutions will, and we know the solutions: strong governance, funding for rangers and closing down ivory markets among them.”
To raise awareness, Mr. Allen’s Vulcan Productions is releasing two movies this year, a feature documentary on the ivory trade and the true story of a baby elephant born into a rehabilitation program in Botswana.
“We have been making desperate cries to the world that all is not well for the African elephant across the continent and feel sad that the results vindicate our position,” Paul Udoto, a spokesman for Kenya Wildlife Service, said of the census.
“It’s another golden chance for the world to unite and give elephants a new lease on life and save them from the inexorable descent into extinction.”