Liberia home to these African forest elephants, has lost 95% of its elephant population in a few decades. Only 1,000 remain. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Elephant poaching levels are the worst in a decade and recorded ivory seizures are at their highest levels since 1989, according to a report (PDF) published two weeks ago by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
According to data from the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), three of the five years in which the greatest volumes of ivory were seized globally occurred in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
In 2011 alone, there were 14 large-scale ivory seizures—a double-digit figure for the first time in 23 years, when ETIS records were first compiled. They totalled an estimated 24.3 tonnes of ivory; more than in any previous year.
1.5 tons of ivory were seized in May 2012 in Sri Lanka
Large-scale ivory seizures (those involving >800 kg of ivory in a single transaction), typically indicate the participation of organised crime.
China and Thailand are the two primary destinations for illegal ivory consignments exported from Africa according to the seizure data. Seizures of large ivory consignments in Malaysia, the Philippines and Viet Nam since 2009, were believed to be in transit to China and Thailand.
Most of the ivory smuggling containers leave the African continent through Indian Ocean seaports in East African countries, primarily Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania.
“Evidence is steadily mounting which shows that African elephants are facing their most serious crisis since international commercial trade in ivory was generally prohibited under CITES in 1989”, said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s Elephant and Rhino Programme Leader and the Director of ETIS.
Poaching levels are increasing in all countries where African elephants occur, and may be leading to dramatic declines in some populations, but particularly in Central African countries, where poaching levels are highest. This was brought to international attention earlier this year by the killing of hundreds of elephants in Bouba Ndjida National Park in Cameroon.
There are also disturbing indications that the illegal killing of elephants has increased in recent years in Asia too, although data are hard to obtain.
HOW MANY ELEPHANTS ARE LEFT?
The most recent continent-wide compilation of African elephant (Loxodonta africana) numbers dates back to 2007, when there were at least half a million elephants in Africa, and perhaps as many as 700,000, spread over some 3.3 million km², an area slightly larger than India. New survey data on African elephant populations are currently being analysed and an update on elephant numbers is expected later this year.
The global Asian elephant population is estimated at around 30,000–50,000, with a geographical range of around 878,600 km² (an area smaller than Pakistan), which is only 10% of the historical range.
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READ THIS VANITY FAIR ARTICLE IN FULL
Highly emotional and completely guileless, elephants mourn their dead—and across Africa, they are grieving daily as demand from China’s “suddenly wealthy” has driven the price of ivory to $700 a pound or more. With tens of thousands of elephants being slaughtered each year for their tusks, raising the specter of an “extinction vortex,” Alex Shoumatoff travels from Kenya to Seattle to Guangzhou, China, to expose those who are guilty in the massacre—and recognize those who are determined to stop it.