Illegal killing for ivory drives global decline in African elephants   Leave a comment

Proceedings of the National Academy of Science...

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tusks of African and Asian elephants.

Tusks of African and Asian elephants. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

African Elephant in Okaukuejo, Etosha, Namibia...

African Elephant in Okaukuejo, Etosha, Namibia. Rushing for the waterhole at sundown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Difference between Asian (left) and African (r...

Difference between Asian (left) and African (right) elephant ears. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reblogged from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences :

Significance

Illegal harvest for commercial trade has recently surged to become a major threat to some of the world’s most endangered and charismatic species. Unfortunately, the cryptic nature of illegal killing makes estimation of rates and impacts difficult. Applying a model based on field census of carcasses, to our knowledge we provide the first detailed assessment of African elephant illegal killing rates at population, regional, and continental scales. Illegal harvest for commercial trade in ivory has recently surged, coinciding with increases in illegal ivory seizures and black market ivory prices. As a result, the species declined over the past 4 y, during which tens of thousands of elephants have been killed annually across the continent. Solutions to this crisis require global action.

Abstract

Illegal wildlife trade has reached alarming levels globally, extirpating populations of commercially valuable species. As a driver of biodiversity loss, quantifying illegal harvest is essential for conservation and sociopolitical affairs but notoriously difficult. Here we combine field-based carcass monitoring with fine-scale demographic data from an intensively studied wild African elephant population in Samburu, Kenya, to partition mortality into natural and illegal causes. We then expand our analytical framework to model illegal killing rates and population trends of elephants at regional and continental scales using carcass data collected by a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species program. At the intensively monitored site, illegal killing increased markedly after 2008 and was correlated strongly with the local black market ivory price and increased seizures of ivory destined for China. More broadly, results from application to continental data indicated illegal killing levels were unsustainable for the species between 2010 and 2012, peaking to ∼8% in 2011 which extrapolates to ∼40,000 elephants illegally killed and a probable species reduction of ∼3% that year. Preliminary data from 2013 indicate overharvesting continued. In contrast to the rest of Africa, our analysis corroborates that Central African forest elephants experienced decline throughout the last decade. These results provide the most comprehensive assessment of illegal ivory harvest to date and confirm that current ivory consumption is not sustainable. Further, our approach provides a powerful basis to determine cryptic mortality and gain understanding of the demography of at-risk species.

Footnotes

  • Author contributions: G.W., J.B., I.D.-H., P.O., and K.P.B. designed research; G.W., J.M.N., J.B., and I.D.-H. performed research; G.W., J.B., P.O., and K.P.B. contributed new reagents/analytic tools; G.W., J.M.N., J.B., and K.P.B. analyzed data; and G.W. wrote the paper.

  • The authors declare no conflict of interest.

  • This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.

  • This article contains supporting information online at www.pnas.org/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1073/pnas.1403984111/-/DCSupplemental.

Freely available online through the PNAS open access option.

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