An international ban on ivory has not eliminated the demand for ivory products. China is the biggest buyer and uses elephant tusks to create jewelry and ornaments. Poachers respond to this demand by illegally killing hundreds of elephants every year to smuggle the product to the highest bidders. New elephant births are not enough to compete with the killings, and the elephant is declining throughout the African continent. In 1979, elephants in Africa numbered around 1.3 million. Today, that number is only 470,000.
Poaching in Africa
Some of the highest numbers of hunted elephants come from Central and Western Africa although poaching is not limited to those areas. Eastern and Southern African regions are also plagued by this illegal practice. This article takes a look at what percentage of elephant deaths is caused by poaching.
In Central Africa, 90% of all elephant deaths is caused by poaching. This region has seen a 64% decrease in its elephant population since ten years ago. Today, Central Africa is home to around 50,000 elephants, the majority of which live in Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Garamba National Park, in the DRC and established in 1938, once harbored over 22,000 elephants. Weekly slaughters has reduced this population by 95%. The 100 rangers and 100 soldiers on patrol are forced to use antiquated weapons due to budget restraints. They clearly do not provide sufficient protection and cannot prevent poachers from doing away with the remaining animals and smuggling their ivory across borders.
The next region with the highest percentage of elephant deaths caused by poaching is in Western Africa. Here, 84% of deaths are attributed to poachers, and the area has experienced a significant decline in the population.
In Eastern Africa, the percentage is significantly lower though still alarmingly high. In this region, 59% of all elephant deaths are due to illegal poaching. There has been some improvement here, however. Kenya has taken part in an ongoing campaign against poaching that has involved government support and public education; as a result, the nation has seen a decline in poaching numbers. The total elephant population in the region is about 24,000.
Southern Africa has the largest elephant population on the continent with around 300,000 of these creatures roaming the forests and savannas here. However, 51% of elephant deaths are at the hands of poachers. South Africa's Kruger National Park was once considered a safe place for these massive animals, however, recent reports have indicated that poaching is on the rise here as well.
The Future of African Elephants
Such high poaching levels and the rapidly declining population make the future of African elephants look quite grim. These creatures are important to the local ecosystem and losing elephants would be a blow to the biodiversity of Africa. Elephants are considered a keystone species which means that other species rely on them for survival. The help to remove brush from forestland, increase water access for other animals, and disperse tree seeds throughout the forests.
This destruction could be further prohibited by focusing on regulation and policy at both local and international levels. A commitment to improving the enforcement of illegal poaching requires increasing human and financial resources. Increased penalties for ivory purchases, expanded tracts of protected land for elephant habitat, and a focus on public education about the role elephants play in the ecosystem are a few of the ways people could start fighting against the loss of elephants. If governments and people decide not to come together for elephants, they will become another animal on the list of extinct species.