The devastating impacts of a recent surge in ivory poaching have been chronicled in detail by new research on one of Africa's best-studied elephant populations.
Almost a thousand elephants in Samburu, Northern Kenya, have been closely monitored over the last decade and a half. Over the last four years intensive poaching caused by demand for their tusks has disrupted their close-knit society.
The illegal killing of elephants is increasing rapidly across the continent as the price of ivory has soared. Massacres in Central Africa's National Parks last year are now being echoed elsewhere in Kenya, including a well-publicised incident in Tsavo National Park on January 4th 2013.
Research conducted by Save the Elephants (STE), a Kenya-based conservation organisation, gives the first detailed analysis of the impacts of illegal killing on a well-studied population.
"Unfortunately, illegal killing and related population decline is increasingly common across Africa, therefore the results from this study are directly relevant to understanding the conservation status of this species," said Dr George Wittemyer of the Colorado State University and STE, who led the study.
The fate of 509 females and 425 males inside two adjacent national reserves, Samburu and Buffalo Springs, was studied over 14 years. Elephants roam far beyond the safety of the reserves and into danger zones where ivory poachers are active. At the start of the research the population was increasing but in 2009 the poaching of these individually-known elephants began to take its toll. This change gave researchers an unprecedented opportunity to investigate the effects of the killing by comparing times of stability with times of strife. More....