Ivory poaching leads to steep decline in elephant populations

A growing demand for ivory, particularly in Asia, has led to a substantial rise in the number of large-scale seizures of the banned material, and a steep increase in the poaching of elephants. So much so, that the populations of the animals in parts of Africa are now in serious decline.

According to a new report from wildlife-watchdog organization TRAFFIC, 2011 was a record year for ivory seizures. In the past twelve months, 13 large-scale seizures, defined as more than 800kg – or 1763 pounds – have taken place world wide. The combined weight of those seizures is in excess of 23 tons, which is the equivalent of roughly 2500 elephants killed. In contrast, in 2010 there were only six such seizures, totaling 10 tons.

Most illegal shipments of ivory are bound for China, where they are commonly used in traditional medicines. TRAFFIC officials believe that the majority of those shipments originate in Kenya and Tanzania, where elephant populations are now in a sharp decline. A recent census of herds in Tanzania for example, recorded a 42% drop in the number of elephants between 2006 and 2009.

The illegal poaching of elephants mirrors what we’ve seen recently with rhinos as well. Those animals are valued for their distinctive horns, which are also in demand throughout Asia. 2011 was a particularly bad year for those creatures too, as the black rhino was declared extinct in West Africa.

Efforts are being made to put a halt to the brutal killing of these animals and to stop the poachers from trading in these illegal goods. But it seems that demand is simply too high and the risks and punishments are too low. If you’ve ever wanted to see these amazing creatures in their natural habitats, you may want to do so soon. At this rate, the rhino and elephant may be gone from the wild in our lifetimes.