From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published August 20, 2014 06:27 AM

Africa Faces Unsustainable Levels of Ivory Poaching

When it comes to illegal wildlife trade, one thing has always puzzled me ... Why is the demand for ivory so high? While I may not come across the black-market demands or understand the cultural or historical needs for these rare animal teeth, one thing is easy to see - populations of the African elephant are declining.

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Despite multiple national and international bans on ivory trade and raised awareness, poaching continues. And sadly, according to new research, an estimated 100,000 elephants were killed for their ivory between 2010 and 2012.

While the number of elephants remaining in Africa is uncertain, these losses are driving declines in the world's wild African elephants on the order of 2-3% a year.

The study, published in PNAS, provides the first verifiable estimation of the impacts of the ongoing ivory crisis on Africa's elephant populations.

Researchers drew on data and experience from an Africa-wide intensive monitoring programme. The most thoroughly studied site was Samburu in northern Kenya where every birth and death over the past 16 years has been recorded in a long-term monitoring project co-founded by Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Oxford University's Department of Zoology and George Wittemyer of Colorado State University, for Save the Elephants. The work is done in association with the Kenya Wildlife Service.

Wittemyer, the lead author on the paper, says: 'Our data has become the most sensitive barometer of change during this poaching epidemic. We needed to quantify the scale of killing and figure out how to derive rigorous interpretation of poaching rates.'

The researchers determined illegal killing in Samburu began to surge in 2009. This surge was directly correlated to a more than quadrupling of local black-market ivory prices (the poacher's price) and tripling in the volume and number of illegal ivory seizures through Kenyan ports of transit. The data also show that the destination of the illegally trafficked ivory increasingly shifted to China.

The team used the intensive study of the Samburu elephants as a 'Rosetta stone' to translate less detailed information from 45 elephant populations across Africa to estimate natural mortality and illegal killing rates to model population trends for the species.

Read more at the University of Oxford.

Elephant image via Shutterstock.

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