More elephants in Africa are being killed by poachers than are born each year, and the problem may be worse than previously understood, according to the most detailed assessment yet, released.
Using a newly refined approach to estimate elephant deaths, developed at Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve, researchers said Africa’s elephant population is declining at a rate of about 2% annually.
“Basically, that means we are starting to lose the species,” said lead author George Wittemyer, an assistant professor in the department of fish, wildlife and conservation biology at Colorado State University.
While the actual number of African elephants in the wild is difficult to know for certain, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates there are between 470,000-690,000.
On average, poaching took an average of 33,630 elephants’ lives per year from 2010 to 2012, the study found. “From 2010 to 2012, we calculated that we lost over 100,000 individual elephants. It has just been a total disaster,” said Wittemyer. “It has dropped a bit in 2012-2013 but it is still at a rate that is too high,” he added. He said that the rise in poaching was very closely related to the local price of black-market ivory.
The new mathematical method was based on more than a decade of studying the natural deaths and illegal killings among elephants in northern Kenya.