State-space models reveal a continuing elephant poaching problem in most of Africa

Jun 24, 2020 | Studies

By Scott SchlossbergMichael J. ChaseKathleen S. GobushSamuel K. Wasser & Keith Lindsay – Scientific Reports volume 10, Article number: 10166 (2020


The most comprehensive data on poaching of African elephants comes from the Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) program, which reports numbers of illegally killed carcasses encountered by rangers. Recent studies utilizing 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. To provide more accurate information on trends in elephant poaching, we analyzed MIKE data using state-space models. State-space models account for missing data and the error inherent when sampling carcasses. Using the state-space model, for 2011–2018, 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 since 2011. For Africa as a whole, poaching did decline for 2011–2018, 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. Continued vigilance and anti-poaching efforts will be necessary to combat poaching and to conserve African elephants.

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