By Trevor Jones and Katarzyna Nowak
Earlier this month, international media ran with a major prediction released by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) that “one-fifth of Africa’s elephants could be wiped out in the next ten years, at current poaching levels.”
This is a damaging underestimate that undercuts the seriousness of the current disaster, and the efforts being made to turn the situation around.
Given the widespread killing of elephants for their tusks over the last five to ten years, and the paucity of accurate and up-to-date surveys of elephant populations across Africa, it is very difficult to make regional estimates of total numbers and projections for the future, let alone for the whole continent.
However, let us consider some of the solid information that has been provided recently in peer-reviewed articles and reports by in situ scientists.
In Tanzania, which until recently harbored the continent’s second largest number of savanna elephants (after Botswana), the results of an aerial census of the Selous ecosystem carried out this October have just been announced—at the 9th Scientific Conference of the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI), held December 4-6 in Arusha.
The Selous ecosystem (31,040 square miles) is Africa’s largest protected area and holds East Africa’s greatest elephant population. In the early 1970s, it was estimated to exceed 100,000 elephants, but by the end of the last great ivory poaching crisis in the late 1980s, the number had fallen to about 20,000.
Following the global ivory trade ban enacted in 1989, the population recovered to about 55,000 elephants by 2007—when the current wave of killing escalated. By 2009, Selous elephants were down to about 39,000.
The latest, recently announced population estimate is 13,084. This indicates an unprecedented decline of nearly 80 percent over the last six years. More....