The Elephant Crisis

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Isabella
Student
Research about Elephant conservation

Elephant Crisis

Elephants are one of the largest land animals that roam this earth. There are two species of elephants: the African elephant and the Asian elephant. The African elephant – Loxodonta Africana, has two subspecies: the forest elephant as well as the Savannah elephant. Forest elephants are the smallest species of elephant and they are also darker and have tusks that point downward and are straighter than other tusks on different elephant species (worldwoldlife.org). African elephants can be distinguished from other elephants because they have ears that are the shape of the country of Africa (World Wildlife Fund). Male and female African Elephants are known to have tusks, but there are more and more of them that are seen without them in the wild. They are able to pick things up with the end of their tusks because there are two points that are like fingers (WWF). Elephants are important because they are able to help maintain the habitats for other species, and they are able to disperse and germinate seeds in the African forests when they walk through them. There was an estimate that there are only about 415,000 African elephants that are remaining compared to about 10 million elephants during 1930 (WWF). They aren’t on the endangered list right now, but they are considered to be vulnerable. The IUCN doesn’t consider them to be endangered, but they are listed as a vulnerable species (IUCN). There are multiple reasons why their numbers are declining, but there are also multiple conservation efforts that are being done in order to keep their numbers high. Some of the main reasons why their numbers are declining is because of habitat loss and fragmentation, and the illegal wildlife trade.
One of the threats that face African elephants is habitat loss and fragmentation. Because elephants are large animals, larger areas are ideal for them, and with their habitats being fragmented, the ability for them to disperse is reduced (Zacarias et al., 2018). This then results in negative impacts on different species and the surrounding ecosystems that are needed (Zacarias et al., 2018). They are able to help with the dispersal of seeds within forests for example. Reduction of habitat size causes more elephants to be constricted to smaller foraging areas and results in vegetation degradation (Zacarias et al., 2018). They are losing food sources because of the degradation of the vegetation and it not being able to regenerate as fast as the elephants are consuming it. This is turn can make it where it will be hard for them to survive. The distribution of elephants change depending on the season because of different temperature and rainfall events (Bartholomew, et al.,2018). This is part of the threat to habitat loss and fragmentation because if they don’t have anywhere to go when it seasons change, then they will become easier targets to other aspects that might kill them.
The illegal wildlife trade is another threat, the most harmful, that is affecting elephants. During the 1970s and the 1980s the demand for ivory increased which means that the amount of poaching increased as well (Stiles, 2004). The reasons the demand grew was because of the economic developments and the growing tourism sector (Stiles, 2004). Elephants are being killed because poachers want their tusks to sell to countries like China – the largest consumer -, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan. During the year 1989, CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) banned the selling of elephant ivory, but even after the ban, these countries are still buying from poachers. For a tusk that is between 5-10 kg China would pay around 197- 350 United States dollars (pre ban) per kg, and after the ban, they would pay around 120-170 United States dollars (Stiles, 2004). There was a dramatic rise in the number of elephants that were killed during the years of 2009-2012, affecting about 20.8% of the population. Because of this, there was unbalanced sex ratios and the population was suffering from not having enough males in their prime-age (Wittemyer, et al., 2014). By looking at these numbers and percentages, it is clear that poaching is still a major problem that drives all the conservation efforts that are out there. One promising thing is that there was an announcement from the Chinese government that decided that they are going to ban the trade of ivory. This ban was put into effect on December 31, 2017 (Elephant Crisis Fund).

Bartholomew, David C., et al. “Environmental Factors Affecting the Distribution of African Elephants in the Kasigau Wildlife Corridor, SE Kenya.” African Journal of Ecology. , vol. 56, no. 2, 2018, pp. 244–253.

“The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.” IUCN , 6 Dec. 2018, www.iucn.org/theme/species/our-work/iucn-red-list-threatened-species.

Northrup, Joseph M., et al. “Illegal Killing for Ivory Drives Global Decline in African Elephants.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. , vol. 111, no. 36, 2014, pp. 13117–13121.

Stiles, D. “The Ivory Trade and Elephant Conservation.” Environmental Conservation. , vol. 31, no. 4, 2005, pp. 309–321.

Zacarias, Daniel, and Rafael Loyola. “Distribution Modelling and Multi-Scale Landscape Connectivity Highlight Important Areas for the Conservation of Savannah Elephants.” Biological Conservation, vol. 224, Aug. 2018, pp. 1–8. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2018.05.014.

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