A spate of recent poaching has taken its toll on the African elephant population, with numbers declining every year since 1970. An elephant can grow up to 300 pounds and weigh up to 1,500 pounds. However, since 1990, when conservation efforts began around the African continent, the elephants haven’t been developing tusks at the same pace, according to a study published in the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
That’s because development, especially roads in Ethiopia, has been producing a rise in conflict with elephants — setting off fast-moving attacks.
Researchers analyzed data from Africa’s 55 elephant reserves. They found that human poaching, poaching by hunters and poaching by poachers working in shifts, were major factors in the decline of elephant numbers, but the primary indicator was the number of elephants disappearing in the remaining northern and northeastern regions, specifically between the end of 2014 and the end of 2017.
Scientists counted for each park, and between 2014 and 2017, more than 41,000 elephants disappeared from the wilds of Southern Africa, including nearly 14,000 in Mozambique, according to the study. In those regions, elephants are being poached almost on an annual basis. Researchers think this rise in poaching is due to the increase in road building — and thus, conflict — by industry, which is boosting transportation and trade and allowing for easier traffic to and from capital cities, including in poaching strongholds.
“It is difficult to say what is the cause and cure of poaching without taking into account the changing world dynamics and the counterforces that occur in the short term,” said Muzeni Mashimi, the study’s lead author. “The drivers of poaching, though, are clearly clear. We need to devise more effective ways to limit poaching in order to give elephants the opportunity to continue to be mobile, to reproduce and to reproduce at a normal rate and to contribute to the replenishment of the population,” he added.
In April, the International Union for Conservation of Nature — the organization that more than 300 countries rely on to determine conservation priorities for their national biodiversity conservation plans — reported that elephant populations were at their lowest levels in nearly 40 years. The IUCN said the elephants had decreased by 13 percent since 1970, the most recent year data are available.
Human encroachment into elephant habitat, including rapid population growth and growing demand for their meat and ivory for everything from decorative ornaments to carvings are driving elephants out of their old and new ranges, the IUCN said. Experts say hunting is also responsible for as much as 15 percent of the population decline — though it’s difficult to measure the exact rate of poaching in different regions due to the lack of access and transparency.
For now, poaching continues unabated in Kenya, South Africa and Botswana. Rhino, giraffe and black rhino poaching has decreased in recent years. But the lowest levels of rhino poaching are from 2011 to 2013, before poaching rose significantly in 2014 and 2015. According to the IUCN, more than 4,000 black rhinos have been killed between 2008 and 2017.