, WASHINGTON, August 19 – 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 on Monday.
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 two percent 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.
The newly developed model covers the entire continent and therefore shows that the number of elephants that died in recent years is higher than previous estimates.
For instance, experts agree that the most recent peak year for illegal elephant killings was 2011.
According to data from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), about 25,000 elephants may have been poached across Africa in 2011, based on about four dozen sites being monitored.
This study however, shows that illegal poaching removed about eight percent of the population in 2011, which “extrapolates to around 40,000 elephants illegally killed,” when the entire continent is considered, it said.
On average, poaching took an average of 33,630 elephants’ lives per year from 2010 to 2012, the study found.
“It has dropped a bit in 2012-2013 but it is still at a rate that is too high and is driving the decline of the species,” Wittemyer told AFP.
The new mathematical method was based on more than a decade of studying the natural deaths and illegal killings among elephants in northern Kenya.
The approach was then extended to carcass data from international monitors and extrapolated across the African continent.
“From 2010 to 2012, we calculated that we lost over 100,000 individual elephants. It has just been a total disaster,” said Wittemyer.
– Spike in ivory prices –
“Wittemyer and colleagues have taken an important step — an obvious step in retrospect, but it’s difficult to get the right data for such an analysis,” said Susan Alberts, an elephant expert and biology professor at Duke University.