The Constant Battle to Protect the Elephants

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Elephants have been roaming the planet for around 15 million years. It is difficult to give an accurate prediction of the number of animals there were, but it has been estimated that in the 1930s there were up to 5 million elephants in the wild. By 1980 this had dropped to 1.3 million and then in the next decade the figure had been halved so that by 1990 the population had dropped to 600,000. This alarming fall in the numbers led to the creation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild fauna and Flora (CITES). This group banned the international trade in Ivory and elephant numbers started to recover.

The African Elephant in its natural surroundings

This recovery however has been dependent on the areas that the elephants are located in. If the elephants reside in well protected conservation areas then the numbers have been rising, however illegal poaching is a massive business, so if the elephants are not protected they are in constant danger. A dead elephant’s tusks are worth around 21,000 US dollars. For the illegal hunters in the developing areas of the world it is seen as seen as a worthwhile risk to poach, as their monetary reward can amount to a small fortune in their local economy.

In 2014 it was estimated that there were 700,000 African elephants and 32,000 Asian elephants remaining in the world. The populations in Southern Africa are large and expanding with an estimated 300,000 animals surviving in well protected conservation areas. However, each year 23,000 elephants are killed by illegal poaching and this amounts to an elephant being killed every 15 minutes. Only 20% of the area that the animals roam is under protection and in the last decade the overall numbers in the whole of Africa have dropped by 111,000 which is roughly 20% of the entire continents population.

One of the biggest examples of the scale of the poaching occurred in Bouba Ndjida National Park in Cameroon in 2012. Over 50 poachers from the Sudan and Chad entered the park on and over a 3-month period slaughtered 650 animals. Travelling around the park on horseback, they used military grade weapons to kill the elephants. It took 3 months for the Cameroon authorities to deploy their military in order to get rid of the poachers. It is believed that the same group that had committed similar atrocities in Zakouma National Park in Chad in the early 2000s. As a result, Chad are now leading the way for elephant protection in the region.

The elephants slaughtered in the Cameroon in 2012

There are not the same numbers of Asian Elephants numbers as African ones. In 2017 it is estimated that there are around 40,000 roaming in the wild, which has dropped from the 100,000 it was 120 years ago. One species in particular is critically endangered. The Sumatran elephant now only has a population of less than 2500 animals roaming in the wild. Surviving in the forests of Sumatra the animal’s numbers have decreased by 80% in less than 25 years. This has been as a result a combination of poaching and deforestation. The removal of the natural forest in order to farm pulp and paper, and palm oil, has seen the removal of the elephant’s natural habitat. This combined with the males being hunted for their tusks has seen the numbers declining to alarming new lows, and they have now been given critically endangered status by the world wild life fund.

There are many agencies that have been created to protect the elephant in different areas of the world. Legislation has been put in place to outlaw the international trade in ivory and there is general agreement that this magnificent animal needs to be kept alive. However, in order to beat the criminal poachers, government’s need to spend more time and resources in protecting the areas where the elephants roam. It has been estimated that an elephant is worth 1.5 million dollars to an economy during its life time, from the money that is brought in through tourism. It is certainly in the best interests of all concerned to keep elephants alive and well.