Elephant poaching has improved little or even worsened since 2011 across Africa-report
“The reduction in Eastern Africa appears to be real and is laudable, but conservationists and governments should not allow improvement in one region to influence their view of what is happening in the rest of Africa,” says State-space Models Reveal a Continuing Elephant Poaching Problem in Most of Africa, published in the journal Scientific Reports, this week.
The researchers, from the University of Washington, Elephants Without Borders, and the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, explain how the most comprehensive data on poaching of African elephants comes from the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (Mike) programme, which is administered by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, and reports numbers of illegally killed carcasses encountered by rangers.
“Recent studies utilising Mike data have reported that poaching of African elephants peaked in 2011 and has been decreasing through 2018. Closer examination of these studies, however, raises questions about the conclusion that poaching is decreasing throughout the continent.
“Using the state-space model for 2011 to 2018, we found no significant temporal trends in rates of illegal killing for Southern, Central and Western Africa. Only in Eastern Africa have poaching rates decreased substantially. For Africa as a whole, poaching did decline for 2011 to 2018, but the decline was entirely due to Eastern African sites. Our results suggest that poaching for ivory has not diminished across most of Africa since 2011.”
Beginning around 2007, a wave of poaching for ivory affected populations of savannah elephants and forest elephants across Africa. The population of savannah elephants plunged by 30% between 2007 and 2015, and an estimated 100000 elephants of both species were slaughtered between 2010 and 2012.
In some countries, elephant populations declined by more than 50% in less than 10 years.
Data for the study was from 53 sites in 28 countries. Accurately determining whether poaching is diminishing is critical for evaluating the success of ivory trade bans and other anti-poaching measures.
Poaching levels remain high and are probably unsustainable in Central and Western Africa. While recent survey data from southern Africa is limited, two major elephant populations in this region are showing “worrisome trends”.
Northern Botswana’s large elephant population has been experiencing a spike in poaching since 2017, and the Kruger National Park has experienced heightened poaching, too, recently. “Taken together, these findings call for continued vigilance and anti-poaching and anti-trafficking efforts.”
The Mike programme is an extremely valuable source of information on the status of elephant populations - in many countries elephant surveys are infrequent and some governments refuse to release elephant survey data.
The Environmental Investigation Agency said that last year more than 44 tons of ivory were seized, “representing at least 6 500 dead elephants”, with more ivory seized last year than in the past three years.
The "sobering" findings of the paper “come as there appears to be a creeping, unsubstantiated and arbitrary perception” that elephant poaching is in decline across Africa.
“Indeed, certain governments in southern Africa - Botswana, Namibia, SA, Zambia and Zimbabwe - support the resumption of commercial international trade in ivory and last year tried to sell their ivory stockpiles despite increasing poaching in the region and the risk of such trade further exacerbating it.”