Poaching continues to damage African Elephant numbers
It is estimated that in 1950 the African elephant population numbered 5 million, by the 1989 their numbers had been devastated by poaching, leaving fewer than 450,000 in Africa. In reaction to this alarming trend the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES) placed the African Elephant at Appendix 1, as a most endangered species in 1989, and as a result in 1990 a global ban on the international trade of ivory was enforced.
Despite the effort that has gone into preserving Africa’s remaining elephant population the species continues to be under threat in many areas of Africa, and today the population numbers only 100,000 more than its 1989 level. And in many areas poaching is becoming an increasing problem once more. In Kenya 45 elephants were killed in 2007, but this figure increased to 271 in 2009, an increase of over 400%. This is despite Kenya having some of the best wildlife enforcement and protection in Africa. Sadly Kenya is not alone in seeing a poaching increase; examples of mass poaching are found across Africa. In Sierra Leone last year, the country’s entire elephant population was “wiped out” in a massacre at its only Wildlife Park, leaving only 36 elephant range states now in Africa.
Despite the poaching ban the high value of ivory on the Asian market often makes breaking the law worth the risk for poachers. There is an increasing demand for ivory products across Asia, most notably in China. At Douala Port, Cameroon, nearly 1 ton of ivory was seized last year heading for the Chinese market, suspected of being from over 100 elephants. A recent report by the Environmental Investigation Agency echoes this worrying trend stating, “China’s rising demand for ivory has triggered increased poaching in a number of African countries, decimating many elephant populations”.
Ivory Poaching is not the only threat for the African Elephant, in countries such as Niger, Mali and Senegal that are disrupted by civil war, corruption and severe poverty the species is on the brink of extinction. This month in Angola, a country that is still recovering after a 27 year civil war, the species has come under threat due to a conflict with the human population. A herd of elephants from Botswana stampeded through a village in the south of the country leaving farms and homes destroyed, and sent the village’s 4000 inhabitants running into neighbouring Namibia to escape. The event will not help to encourage improved elephant-human relations, which are especially important considering that Angola’s own elephant population was decimated during the civil war that ended in 2002 and almost went extinct in what is thought to be “one of the biggest wildlife slaughters of the past century”. Unfortunately as human populations increase conflicts such as this one are on the increase and many see the containment of elephants in parks to be the only way forward in these situations.
A Fate Unclear
Clearly African Elephants remain under threat from a number of quarters. Unfortunately the situation may be about to get even worse. Despite the work that has gone into protecting the species from illegal poaching there are calls from a number of African countries to relax the ban on ivory trade. One off sales have been allowed in the past and now Tanzania and Zambia are calling for a regulation of trade instead of a blanket ban. Promoters of ivory trade regulation argue that money from sales could be used to prevent poaching and invested in elephant welfare. Others however, such as Moses Litoroh, one of the co-ordinators of Kenya’s elephant programme, describe the Asian ivory market as ‘insatiable’ and are adamant that supply of ivory feeds demand. Elephant conservation remains a complex issue that is unlikely to vanish soon, one thing that is clear however that Africa’s elephants remain under threat and their fate remains far from certain.