22,000 elephants slaughtered for their ivory in 2012

Jeremy Hance
December 02, 2013

As the African Elephant Summit open in Botswana today, conservationists released a new estimate of the number of African elephants lost to the guns of poachers last year: 22,000. Some 15,000 elephants killed in 42 sites across 27 countries on the continent, according to newly released data from the CITES program, Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE). But conservationists estimate another 7,000 went unreported. The number killed is a slight decrease over 2011 numbers of 25,000.

"We continue to face a critical situation. Current elephant poaching in Africa remains far too high, and could soon lead to local extinctions if the present killing rates continue," said John E. Scanlon, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) Secretary-General. "The situation is particularly acute in Central Africa—where the estimated poaching rate is twice the continental average,"

In fact conservation groups said that if such rates continued, Africa could lose a fifth of its elephants in the next ten years.

"The estimated poaching rate of 7.4 percent in 2012 remains at an unsustainably high level, as it exceeds natural population growth rates (usually no more than 5 percent)," reads a report on the data compiled by CITES, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and anti-wildlife trading group, TRAFFIC. Currently, Africa is home to around half a million elephants.

While the numbers represent a massive bloodbath, the new estimate is actually around a third less than a previous one made by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) of 35,000 elephants killed.

Elephant herd in Namibia. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Elephant herd in Namibia. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Data on this year's death toll hasn't come out yet. But preliminary figures on ivory trafficking from the the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) database suggest 2013 may be ahead of both 2011 and 2012 for elephant poaching.

"From 2000 through 2013, the number of large-scale ivory movements has steadily grown in terms of the number of such shipments and the quantity of ivory illegally traded. 2013 already represents a 20% increase over the previous peak year in 2011; we're hugely concerned," said Tom Milliken, ivory trade expert with TRAFFIC, which manages the ETIS database.

Experts aren't yet sure if the rise in ivory confiscations means an uptick in poaching or, preferably, improved law enforcement.

The bulk of the illegal ivory is destined for China, although Thailand remains another major market, according to the analysis. In the past few years, ivory tusks are usually smuggled out of Tanzania and Kenya, passing through either Malaysia, Vietnam, or Hong Kong. However, experts say ivory is now also increasingly smuggled out of Togo or Côte d'Ivoire, and makes its way through Indonesia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Turkey, or the United Arab Emirates on its way to China.

The IUCN lumps all of Africa's elephants together, listing them as Vulnerable as of 2008 (before the current poaching crisis). However, DNA research published in 2010 found at least two separate species of elephants on the continent: the savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis), which were as distinct from each other as Asian elephants were from mammoths. The distinction is important, since forest elephants, which are found largely in the rainforests of central Africa, have been especially hard hit by poaching. Earlier this year, conservationists estimated that Central Africa had lost a staggering 62 percent of its forest elephants.

AUTHOR: Jeremy Hance joined Mongabay full-time in 2009. He currently serves as senior writer and editor. He has also authored a book.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (December 02, 2013).

22,000 elephants slaughtered for their ivory in 2012.