By Don Hopey
It has been said that elephants never forget, but whether they will become only a memory depends in part on the work of an international array of elephant experts meeting in Pittsburgh this week.
A charismatic mega-fauna, elephants are nonetheless under attack and endangered in the wild at the same time that the captive population is aging, according to Deborah Olson, executive director of the International Elephant Foundation, which supports science-based elephant conservation, protection and management programs in managed facilities and in the wild.
Ms. Olson, who was attending the International Elephant and Rhino Conservation and Research Symposium, hosted by the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, said Wednesday that poachers, driven by the Chinese and Japanese demand for tusk ivory, are continuing to decimate elephant populations.
"Thousands of elephants have been killed this year for their ivory, especially in north, east and central Africa where civil wars have made guns and ammunition readily available," she said. "In the Congo, poachers in a helicopter swooped in earlier this year and killed 30 elephants."
As bad as the poaching is, increasing habitat loss and other human-elephant conflicts are taking an even greater toll, Ms. Olson said, both in Africa, where the number of elephants has dwindled from 1.3 million 40 years ago to less than 500,000 today, and in Asia, where the population has dipped below 50,000.
In Asia, elephant habitat has been lost to timber cutting, mining, palm oil plantations and expanding human settlement, she said. Elephants that damage plantation plantings or human food crops are often killed. More....