Despite an international trade ban on ivory in 1989, elephants are still being slaughtered in their tens of thousands every year for their tusks. A new report has revealed that the number of elephants being poached seems to have stabilized, however the total number being killed is “at levels that remain unacceptably high overall,” and still far exceed the numbers that are being born, meaning that the animals are continuing to decline.
The report has been released by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which compiles the definitive set of numbers on the trends of elephant populations. They have found that the steady increase in African elephants being poached for their ivory, which started in 2006, has finally halted. The figures show that the number of elephants being illegally killed peaked in 2011, when poaching accounted for 75 percent of all elephant deaths, and since then has declined, although not enough for the populations to start recovering.
Elephants in Central Africa, such as this one in Garamba National Park, are being decimated. ENOUGH Project/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
When the data is broken down into regional parts, however, the picture starts to change. While East Africa has seen their numbers drop for the fourth year in a row, and particular praise has been given to Kenya, the populations of elephants in West Africa are being hit hard. The forest elephants that live in the rainforests of Central and West Africa have seen a shocking 62 percent decline in the last decade alone. The image from Southern Africa is also mixed, as despite historically being a stronghold for the animals, last year saw a worrying increase in poaching in the iconic Kruger National Park.
“African elephant populations continue to face an immediate threat to their survival from unacceptably high-levels of poaching for their ivory, especially in Central and West Africa where high levels of poaching are still evident,” says John E. Scanlon, the Secretary-General for CITES. “There are some encouraging signs, including in certain parts of Eastern Africa, such as Tsavo in Kenya, where the overall poaching trends have declined, showing us all what is possible through a sustained and collective effort with strong political support.”
Numbers vary, but it’s generally thought that around 30,000 elephants are still being killed each year. The report from CITES looked at just under 15,000 carcasses from across the continent between 2003 and 2015 to give an insight into how many are being illegally killed for ivory, and how that percentage is changing.
CITES has also identified the 22 countries “most heavily implicated in the illegal trade in ivory.” Of these, they have found eight countries to be of “primary concern": China, Kenya, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Uganda, and the United Republic of Tanzania. CITES has brought 19 of these nations together, and is asking them to develop and implement a National Ivory Action Plan, in the hopes that one day more elephants will be born than are killed.