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 Western aid was withdrawn four years after the ban was enacted and poaching gradually increased to the current alarming rates, Wasser said.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|