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While poaching rates have dropped, elephants are still far from safe

An international team of scientists has determined that the rate of elephant poaching in Africa is now declining after reaching its peak in 2011. The researchers said that the world’s elephants will remain threatened, however, until more action is taken to address poverty and corruption and there is a drop in the demand for ivory.

“We need to reduce demand in Asia and improve the livelihoods of people who are living with elephants in Africa; these are the two biggest targets to ensure the long-term survival of elephants,” said Dr. Beale. “While we can’t forget about anti-poaching and law enforcement, improving this alone will not solve the poaching problem.”

The study, which was led by the University of York, has revealed that the annual mortality rate from poaching dropped from 10 percent in 2011 to four percent in 2017. There are an estimated 350,000 elephants left in Africa, but as many as 15,000 are killed by poachers every year. At the current rate of poaching, elephants could almost completely vanish, with the few survivors living in small, protected populations.

“We are seeing a downturn in poaching, which is obviously positive news, but it is still above what we think is sustainable so the elephant populations are declining,” said study co-author Dr. Colin Beale. “The poaching rates seem to respond primarily to ivory prices in Southeast Asia and we can’t hope to succeed without tackling demand in that region.”

According to the study authors, it is impossible to know the impact of the ivory trade ban that China introduced in 2017. They pointed out that ivory prices started to fall before the ban and may reflect a broader downward trend in the Chinese economy.

“Ensuring a future with wild elephants, and myriad other species, will require stronger laws and enforcement efforts and genuine community engagement; however, as long as demand exists supply will find a way to quench it,” explained study co-author Lisa Rolls Hagelberg. “Only about 6% of the current funding going towards tackling illegal trade in wildlife is directed to communication.”

“For long-term success, governments need to prioritize comprehensive social and behavioural change interventions to both prevent and reduce demand. We have the know how, now we need to invest to truly influence environmental consciousness.”

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Colin Beale, University of York

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