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Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

Illegal Ivory Trade Threatens African Elephants

Despite the 1990 ban on ivory trade, elephants continue to be killed by poachers. According to Defenders of Wildlife, at the turn of the 20th century, there were a few million African elephants and about 100,000 Asian elephants. Today, there are an estimated 450,000 to 700,000 African elephants and between 35,000 and 40,000 wild Asian elephants. Defenders of Wildlife is working through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to maintain a ban on the sale of ivory as well as on regulations that govern worldwide elephant protection. Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the African elephant is listed as “threatened” and the Asian elephant is listed as “endangered.” On the IUCN Red List, the African elephant is listed as “near threatened” and the Asian elephant as “endangered.” Elephants are listed in CITES Apendix I, except in Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia, where the African elephant is listed as an Appendix II species. (See sidebar on threat classifications.)

The 2013 CITES meeting in Bangkok reported that “Globally, illegal ivory trade activity has more than doubled since 2007, and is now over three times larger than it was in 1998.” According to a recent CITES-led project that monitors about 40 percent of Africa’s elephant population, about 17,000 elephants were illegally killed in 2011.

At that kill rate (without even considering deaths by natural causes), it is not hard to see why poaching could wipe out the African herds within a few decades. Elephants have a gestation period of 21 to 23 months (600 to 660 days). They usually have only one calf and interbirth intervals last 4 to 5 years. Using the most optimistic figures, if half of the African elephants (350,000) were females that bore one calf every six years, less than 58,333 new calves would be added to the African herds annually.

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