Proof that the tragedy of elephant poaching is out of control

A tragic reality proven: elephant poaching in Africa is out of control and these beautiful beasts are at real threat of extinction.

If we weren’t aware already, a new study has hammered it home: elephant poaching is getting wildly out of control. Tens of thousands of these beautiful creatures – Earth’s biggest land mammals – are killed every year for their ivory. And if we don’t act soon then whole populations might be wiped out.

So, how devastating are the numbers?

Carcasses of elephants killed by poachers in Africa
(Chris Leadisimo/Colorado State University)

The scale of slaughter threatens to entirely wipe out elephants in some parts of Africa. The study found more than 33,600 animals were killed each year between 2010 and 2012.

Over those three years alone, it’s estimated that 6.8% of the continent’s elephant population was wiped out by the illegal ivory trade.

The worst affected region is central Africa, where poaching led to a 63.7% fall in elephant numbers between 2002 and 2012.

Why is it happening?

Confiscated ivory on display in Hong Kong, 2014
Confiscated ivory on display in Hong Kong, 2014. (Kin Cheung/AP)

Quite simply, because people are paying top dollar for ivory. In particular, the Chinese market for ivory is huge and ivory objects are big status symbols.

One of the main outcomes of the research was proving the connection between poaching in Africa and the Chinese trade.

Researchers looked at Samburu National Reserve in Kenya. The level of poaching going on was strongly linked to the market price of ivory in China.

Are we looking at an extinction threat?

A herd of elephants in Samburu National Park in 2007
A herd of elephants in Samburu National Park in 2007. (Lucy King/AP)

In the words of the researchers, led by Dr George Wittemyer from Colorado State University:

“Our analysis demonstrates the heavy toll illegal ivory trade is taking on African elephants, and suggests current off-take exceeds the intrinsic growth capacity of  the species.”

So, yes. More elephants are being poached than the current population can hope to sustain.

It’s worst in central Africa thanks to wars and political instability. But even in east and southern Africa the elephant populations were relatively stable or growing between 2002 and 2009, and since then went into decline.

According to researchers, these results “confirm that current ivory consumption is not sustainable”.

Baby elephant at West Midland Safari Park
(West Midland Safari Park/PA)

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