Poaching could drive elephants to extinction in decades

New paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences highlights just how perilous their survival has become

Topics: Scientific American, Poaching, elephants, Africa, Ivory,

Poaching could drive elephants to extinction in decades (Credit: absolutely_frenchy via iStock)
This article was originally published by Scientific American.

Scientific American Two or more dead elephants in one place means one thing: poaching by professional killers. Another tip-off is the lack of a face, as poachers hack off the tusks to be sold for ivory. That ivory is then made into valuable trinkets in Asia or even parts of violin bows in Europe and North America. The proceeds often fund terrorism and other criminal enterprises. And such poaching is causing populations of African elephants to decline by at least 2 percent per year since 2010, according to a new paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. At least 100,000 elephants have died in just the last three years. If this rate continues, African elephants could go extinct in a few decades.

Poaching has been on the rise since 2008; and in 2011 alone as many as 40,000 elephants died for their tusks. The new field census of carcasses provides the first assessment of just how bad such poaching has become in recent years. In Kenya, at least, the rate of elephant kills matched up almost perfectly with black market ivory prices, suggesting that as ivory gets more expensive, more elephants will be killed for their ivory.

Central Africa’s forest elephants have been hardest hit. The known population is down more than 60 percent since 2002. And, in recent years, populations of their savannah elephant cousins have begun to decline as well. Poachers are killing off an intelligent fellow mammal species that mourns its dead, can recognize itself in a mirror and stands as the largest remaining land animal on the planet.

Since 2011, at least in Kenya, the killing seems to have slowed, perhaps because that’s the year China began restricting ivory auctions. One solution might be to close all ivory markets entirely, at least in the short term. In the long term, the only answer is to slow the demand for ivory in favor of a demand for living elephants. Otherwise, this generation could be the last to see proboscideans walk the wild.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...