Elephants were once abundant throughout Africa and Asia. During the twentieth century however wild populations saw a rapid decline as a result of an insatiable consumer demand for ivory from Asian markets.
In the last forty years alone, African elephant populations have declined by over 70% from a population of over 1.3 million elephants that roamed Africa in 1979. Today, as few as 450,000 remain across both continents.
There are three main threats to elephant populations:
Illegal wildlife trade
In 1989, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) banned the international trade in ivory. However, despite recent closures, legal domestic ivory markets are still thriving in many countries (most notably Japan and the EU). Running in parallel, and fuelled by the existence of legal markets, is a growing illegal black market trade driven by demand for wildlife products in Asia which continues to drive the poaching of elephants.
In 1999 and 2008, there were two ‘one-off’ stockpile sales of ivory from Southern African states to Asia as an attempt to curb poaching. These were a catastrophic failure, instead causing a surge of illegal activity after each sale.
Take a look at David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation’s position against the ivory trade in our Ivory Trade Statement.
In the last 40 years, human populations have doubled, and there has been a mass expansion of agriculture and human settlements. Unsurprisingly, this growth has pushed humans and elephants into closer proximity and has escalated human-wildlife conflicts.
Elephants often wander into agricultural areas to raid crops, sparking retaliatory killings by farmers. Whilst many people in the west view elephants as majestic and sentient beings, they inspire anger and fear amongst communities living alongside them and are often viewed as pests. Farmers in elephant range states are often desperately poor and nutritionally vulnerable, so any threat to their source of food and income is swiftly and often brutally dealt with.
Habitat loss and degradation
Elephants are rapidly losing their habitats as a result of agricultural and human settlement expansion. It’s important to note that elephants are a trans-boundary species, which means they rely on migration and movement for their survival, rather than living in one place. The rapid construction of roads, cities and infrastructure throughout elephant range states is having a profound impact on elephant migration patterns with drastic consequences to their survival as landscapes shrink, viable habitats are threatened.
How to Help elephants
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