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Humans threaten the survival of Ethiopian elephants

An endangered population of Ethiopian elephants is under serious threat from tens of thousands of illegal human settlements, according to a new study led by the University of Oxford.

The Babile Elephant Sanctuary is one of the largest protected areas in Ethiopia. It is home to the northeastern-most population of African Savannah Elephants, which is one of only six populations recognized in Ethiopia.

The sanctuary was established to protect the resident elephant population from poaching and habitat loss. The new research suggests that human-elephant conflict is a bigger threat to Ethiopian elephants than previously realized. 

In collaboration with the Born Free Foundation, the experts analyzed satellite data and found that the number of illegal houses in the sanctuary soared from 18,000 to more than 50,000 over the decade leading up to 2017. Furthermore,  32,000 of these houses are within elephants’ range.

According to the researchers, unless the integrity of the Babile Elephant Sanctuary can be restored, and security and poverty issues resolved, this population of elephants will be lost within a short matter of time. 

The experts noted that the human population in Ethiopia has now reached more than 110 million people. As a result, there is an extremely high demand for limited natural resources, along with a severe shortage of land, which intensifies the conflict between humans and elephants.

‘The situation in the Babile Elephant Sanctuary is critical. There are now only around 250 elephants left,” said Emily Neil, a postgraduate researcher with Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment.

“Without the rapid resolution of the many human issues putting pressure on the elephants it is difficult to foresee a future in which this population of elephants survives.”

The study is published in the latest edition of Oryx -The International Journal of Conservation.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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