July 31, 2008
Poaching Driving Down African Elephant Populations

Lax enforcement of anti-poaching laws has allowed a resurgence of the poachers.

African elephants are being slaughtered for their ivory at a pace unseen since an international ban on the ivory trade took effect in 1989. But the public outcry that resulted in that ban is absent today, and a University of Washington conservation biologist contends it is because the public seems to be unaware of the giant mammals' plight.

The elephant death rate from poaching throughout Africa is about 8 percent a year based on recent studies, which is actually higher than the 7.4 percent annual death rate that led to the international ivory trade ban nearly 20 years ago, said Samuel Wasser, a UW biology professor.

But the poaching death rate in the late 1980s was based on a population that numbered more than 1 million. Today the total African elephant population is less than 470,000.

"If the trend continues, there won't be any elephants except in fenced areas with a lot of enforcement to protect them," said Wasser.

Poaching got cut down in the last 1980s and could be again.

In 1989, most international ivory trade was banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (http://www.cites.org/), which regulates trade in threatened and endangered species. The restrictions banned ivory trade except for ivory from elephants that nations legally culled from their herds or those that died naturally.

At the time the treaty was enacted, poachers were killing an average of 70,000 elephants a year. The ban instigated much stronger enforcement efforts, nearly halting poaching almost immediately. However, that sense of success resulted in waning enforcement. Western aid was withdrawn four years after the ban was enacted and poaching gradually increased to the current alarming rates, Wasser said.

"The situation is worse than ever before and the public is unaware," he said, "It's very serious because elephants are an incredibly important species. They keep habitats open so other species that depend on such ecosystems can use them. Without elephants, there will be major habitat changes, with negative effects on the many species that depend on the lost habitat.

Continued rapid human population growth also poses a big threat to elephants and other wild animals of Africa. We need international agencies to make a serious effort to cut down the fertility rate in Africa. Too many people means more poverty, disease, and habitat loss.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 July 31 11:22 PM  Trends Extinction

Dragon Horse said at August 1, 2008 9:21 AM:

which means we should hope for population decline in Europe as we can bring back some of those thick central European forest the Greeks would talk about and the wolves and maybe big cats as well right?

Randall Parker said at August 1, 2008 8:25 PM:

Dragon Horse,

Europe needs to stop letting in immigrants. If it does that then its population will shrink faster. Russia is already shrinking. By contrast the population of Kenya is up by about a factor of 6 since the late 1940s and it is still zooming upward. The environmental devastation is enormous.

James Bowery said at August 2, 2008 8:42 AM:

Habitat protection can be accomplished commercially by letting people bid on a totem species for their surname (tribe), and applying the proceeds of the sale to the purchase of the ecological range of their species. Areas with greater biodiversity will naturally enjoy a greater value per acre. Participation by the scientific community would be necessary to make the naming of a species "official".

I sent this idea to E. O. Wilson 20 years ago since he is among those who a) have authority to name species -- especially new ones, and b) have indicated a serious concern for habitat preservation favoring biodiversity.

This has a number of interesting consequences, including the application of advances in property rights protection technology to natural habitat preservation.

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