Poaching of African elephants is in DECLINE as demand for ivory plummets in China – but experts warn the iconic beasts are still at risk with 15,000 animals slain each year
African elephant poaching is in decline as experts discover less of the enormous animals being slaughtered now than they were in 2011.
Figures show that more than ten per cent of Africa‘s elephants were illegally killed that year as the poaching epidemic reached its peak.
The figure dropped to four per cent in 2017 and it is believed the drop in deaths is due to declining demand for ivory in .
Conservationists are tentative about the good news however, saying more work and education is needed in order to ensure the long-term survival of the species.
Between 10,000 and 15,000 elephants are slain every year it is believed, rapidly diminishing the estimated population of just 350,000 elephants.
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Data on the amount of killings was gathered by assessing how many carcasses were recorded at 53 sites across 29 countries from the MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants) programme.
One of the authors of the study, Dr Colin Beale, from the University of York, said: ‘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.
‘The poaching rates seem to respond primarily to ivory prices in South-East Asia and we can‘t hope to succeed without tackling demand in that region.‘
The study authors have not attributed the clear drop in elephant mortality rates to the 2017 ban in Chinese ivory trade as the issue is likely far more complicated.
Paul De Ornellas, Chief Wildlife Officer at WWF told MailOnline: ‘The overall poaching rate of African Elephant remains at a level below the peak slaughter we saw during the first half of the decade.
‘However it remains at worrying levels, with a mixed picture across the continent. Elephant populations in central Africa, for example, are continuing to sustain heavy losses as a result of ivory trafficking.
‘And we are still seeing large scale seizures of ivory in Asia. This shows that the illegal ivory trade remains a major threat to African elephants across much of their range.
‘The international community needs to maintain efforts to strengthen law enforcement and reduce consumer demand, if we are to stamp out this illegal trade and secure a long term future for elephants.‘
Education is essential to tackling the slaughter of elephants to prevent it from becoming a viable market, the researchers say.
Dr Beale added: ‘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.
‘Elephants are the very definition of charismatic megafauna, but they are also important engineers of African savannah and forest ecosystems and play a vital role in attracting ecotourism so their conservation is a real concern.‘
Severin Hauenstein, a Biometry and Environmental System analyst from the University of Freiburg, added: ‘This is a positive trend, but we should not see this as an end to the poaching crisis.
ARE ELEPHANTS SAFE FROM EXTINCTION?
African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are listed as ‘vulnerable‘ on the IUCN Red List which monitors the risk of extinction to animals.
They have been widely hunted and illegally poached for many years for their tusks.
The ivory is of high value to man places in Asia but is now banned in many countries.
A ban came into place in 2017 prohibiting the sale of ivory in China, which was heralded as a major win for conservation of the giants.
They are also important engineers of African savannah and forest ecosystems and play a vital role in attracting ecotourism.
The levels of poaching have been on the decline in recent years but conservationists caution that efforts to protect them should not be alleviated in light of this news.
‘After some changes in the political environment, the total number of illegally killed elephants in Africa seems to be falling, but to assess possible protection measures, we need to understand the local and global processes driving illegal elephant hunting.‘
The publication of the research in the journal comes less than a week after it emerged Botswana lifted its ban on elephant hunting.
It said the elephant population had increased and farmers‘ livelihoods were being impacted and resumption of hunting would be permitted.
A prohibition on elephant hunting was introduced in the southern African country in 2014 by then-president Ian Khama, a keen conservationist.
Lisa Rolls Hagelberg, Head of Wildlife Communication and Ambassador Relations, UN Environment, said of the latest study: ‘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.
‘Only about six per cent of the current funding going towards tackling illegal trade in wildlife is directed to communication.
‘For long-term success, governments need to prioritise 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.‘