By Jo Barrow
There may be far fewer elephants left in the wild than official figures suggest, according to a new report by National Geographic.
The report hit out at current figures, describing them as a “damaging underestimate”, after it was widely reported earlier this month that “one-fifth of Africa’s elephants could be wiped out in the next 10 years, at current poaching levels”, following research by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
However National Geographic has refuted these claims, saying that this estimate “undercuts the seriousness of the current disaster, and the efforts being made to turn the situation around”.
In fact, though the IUCN report posited a figure of around 500,000 African elephants left in the wild, but National Geographic suspects that around half that number is closer to the truth.
The article, published on Monday, points out criticisms of the source data for the IUCN report, claiming that the figures are based on inadequate levels of monitoring and surveys that are “significantly out of date”.
One of the criticised statistics refers to the "Selous Ecosystem", a game reserve in southern Tanzania, where populations of elephants recovered to 55,000 after the global ivory trade ban.
However, violence against elephants escalated in 2007, and by 2009 Selous' elephant population was down to 39,000.
The most recent population estimate is 13,084, which indicates an unprecedented decline of nearly 80 percent of the last six years.
The trend is likely to be replicated in western Tanzania, National Geographic contents, as demographic surveys in 2009-2010 indicated similar poaching pressure as in Selous.
In Central Africa, an extensive study estimates a 62 percent decline in forest elephants between 2002 and 2011.
The National Geographic report goes on to warn that many elephant populations could be wiped out entirely in the next five years, in locations such as Zakouma, Chad; Yankari, Nigeria; Virunga, DRC; Caprivi, Namibia; Garamba, DRC; Queen Elizabeth, Uganda; and now, Selous-Mikumi, Tanzania.