By the time today’s children are grown adults, there may be no more wild elephants on the African continent.
With only 400,000 elephants left there, and 30,000 to 40,000 lost to poachers every year, the population’s prognosis is dire, according to the newest African Elephant Status Report.
Poaching has had a resurgence in the past decade, according to the IUCN, the international wildlife organization that produced the report, but habitat loss also poses a longterm threat to elephants.
“It is shocking but not surprising that poaching has taken such a dramatic toll on this iconic species,” IUCN director general Inger Andersen said in a statement. “This report provides further scientific evidence of the need to scale up efforts to combat poaching. Nevertheless, these efforts must not detract from addressing other major and increasingly devastating threats such as habitat loss.”
This year’s report found that there are some 111,000 fewer elephants now than a decade ago.
“These new numbers reveal the truly alarming plight of the majestic elephant — one of the world’s most intelligent animals and the largest terrestrial mammal alive today,” Andersen said.
In East Africa, there are only half as many elephants as there were just a decade ago, due almost entirely to losses in Tanzania. In West Africa, 12 entire herds (“populations”) were lost across Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone, Togo, Guinea, and Nigeria since 2006.
While much of the current loss is due to poaching, in the future, climate change is expected to be a significant threat to elephant populations. Elephants are highly susceptible to temperature change, and they also migrate over large areas of land — where changes to water supply, vegetation, and weather can endanger elephants.
Earlier this month, the United States joined hundreds of other nations in a sweeping — but voluntary — agreement to ban the domestic trade of ivory.
International ivory trade has been illegal since 1989, but domestic trade has likely been continuing to push demand. Last year, President Obama proposed a national ban on domestic ivory trade throughout the United States, excepting antiques, such as furniture and musical instruments. The new rule will prohibit the sale of ivory across state lines and tighten restrictions at U.S. ports.
The United States is the world’s second-largest ivory market, after Asia.