Beginning next year, light planes and helicopters will undertake the first ever continent-wide aerial survey of Africa’s vanishing elephant populations. The hugely ambitious initiative, which will count elephant herds in 13 countries, is being funded by Microsoft founder, Paul Allen, through his Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.
The new survey, which is estimated to cost around $8 million, will be coordinated by Elephants Without Borders (EWB). Elephants are currently found in 35 countries, however in 20 of these populations are less than 1,000. The new survey will stick to countries with larger populations. The announcement was made at the African Elephant Summit in Botswana yesterday.
“This is the bleakest time for the elephants,” Allen said in a press release. “The statistics on the plight of Africa’s elephants is daunting. I’m devoted to supporting new endeavors which provide meaningful science to help reverse this decline and to reduce the variability in elephant population statistics.”
Africa’s elephants have been decimated by poachers over the last five years as illegal ivory trading has soared in countries like China and Thailand. A recent report estimated that 22,000 elephants were killed in Africa last year alone, however an early estimate put the number at 35,000.
According to scientists around half a million elephants roam Africa today, down from about 1.3 million in the 1970s. But many herds have not been surveyed for years causing a great deal of uncertainty about the actual numbers of the world’s biggest land animal. The survey will focus on the 13 states with the largest elephant populations, comprising between 80-90 percent of Africa’s total.
The IUCN Red List currently lists African elephants as Vulnerable, however the assessment was made in 2008 just before poaching skyrocketed. Moreover, recent genetic research has shown that there are actually two distinct species of elephant in Africa: the savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis), which is largely found in Central Africa. The forest elephants has been especially decimated by recent poaching.
Savanna elephants in Namibia. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
(12/02/2013) 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.
(12/01/2013) Raids in southern and eastern Africa yielded a stash of contraband linked to illegal poaching and logging, reports Interpol, which coordinated the operations.
(11/20/2013) A sensor used by researchers to capture low-frequency communication between elephants inadvertently recorded the audio of an elephant being gunned down by a poacher in Gabon, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society, which used the sound byte in a video highlighting the carnage of the ivory trade.
(10/29/2013) A new public-service campaign in China will ask potential ivory and rhino horn buyers to see the victims of these illicit trades in a new light: as the “pandas of Africa.” The posters are a part of WildAid’s ‘Say No to Ivory and Rhino Horn’ campaign, which was launched earlier in the year.
(10/16/2013) For three years, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has been running advertizing campaigns in Chinese cities to raise awareness on the true source of ivory: slaughtered elephants. A recent evaluation of the campaign by Rapid Asia found that 66 percent of those who saw the ads said they would “definitely” not buy ivory in the future.
(10/09/2013) A government minister in Tanzania has called for a “shoot-to-kill” policy against poachers in a radical measure to curb the mass slaughter of elephants. Khamis Kagasheki’s proposal for perpetrators of the illicit ivory trade to be executed ‘on the spot’ divided opinion, with some conservationists backing it as a necessary deterrent but others warning that it would lead to an escalation of violence.
(09/27/2013) Hillary and Chelsea Clinton on Thursday deployed their mother-daughter star power to help the effort to save African elephants, brokering an $80m effort to stop the ivory poaching which threatens the animals with extinction.
(09/12/2013) Africa’s elephant poaching crisis doesn’t just threaten a species, but imperils one of humanity’s most important links to the natural world and even our collective sanity, according to acclaimed photographers and film-makers, Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson. Authors of the book Walking Thunder – In the Footsteps of the African Elephant, Christo and Wilkinson have been documenting Africa’s titans in photos and film for several years. In 2011, the pair released a film Lysander’s Song (named after their son an avid fan of elephants) which depicts the millennial-old relationship between humans and elephants.
(09/11/2013) As the illegal poaching of African elephants and rhinos reaches epidemic levels, other species are also suffering catastrophic losses as a direct result of poachers’ behavior. A recent incident in July, where a poisoned elephant carcass led to the death of 600 vultures near Namibia’s Bwabwata National Park, has highlighted how poachers’ use of poison is now one of the primary threats to vulture populations.
(09/10/2013) On October 8th, the Obama administration will publicly destroy its ivory stockpile, totaling some six tons, according to a White House forum yesterday on the illegal wildlife trade. The destruction of the stockpile—via crushing—is meant to send a message that the U.S. is taking a tougher stand on illegal the wildlife trade, which is decimating elephants across Africa and imperiling other animals worldwide. The U.S. remains one of the biggest destinations for ivory and other illegal animal part aside from East Asia.