The issue of elephant poaching and the prevalence of the illegal ivory trade has been posing a threat to the existence of the graceful African Elephant since they were initially declared an endangered species in 1978. However, according to a report released by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, there has been a stabilization in the level of African elephant poaching reported in 2016, as indicated by the amount of illegal ivory seized hitting a decline for the fifth year in a row. Although this is good news for the effort to conserve the already endangered African Elephants, CITES’ Secretary-General John Scanlon said, “The global collective effort that is underway is starting to reap positive results, but we are certainly not there yet.”
The CITES MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants) report, which is based on a system developed to measure the levels and trends in illegal elephant poaching, indicated that most improvement was seen in the Eastern and Southern African region, including nations such as Botswana, South Africa and Namibia, with the number of killings being less than the amount of natural deaths reported. However, the levels of poaching reported in Central and West Africa are still alarmingly high. The report also mentions that “estimated poaching rates overall remain higher than the normal growth rate of elephant populations, or above the sustainability threshold, meaning the elephant population overall is likely to have continued to decline in 2016.”
Although it may seem like a stabilization in these numbers will eventually lead to the elephant population blossoming back to its natural population size, the current level of poaching still hinders elephants from reproducing at a quicker rate than that of their mortality statistic. As research shows, elephant populations “can increase at an annual rate of 4 – 5% under favorable conditions.” The very same research also indicates that “a maximum growth rate of 6 – 7 % can be achieved if, for example, no elephant dies until it reaches old age, females start conceiving at 9 or 10 years of age, and they give birth to a calf every 3 years.” Furthermore, elephants (specifically the rarer breed of African Forest Elephant) tend to both breed at later ages compared to other large mammals, and have longer intervals between each calving. Therefore, it is no surprise that a recent study indicates that there has been a 65% decrease in the African Forest Elephant population between 2002, which was prior to the poaching epidemic hitting an all time high in 2011, and 2013, which is when this all time high level began decelerating.
As Mr Scanlon puts it, CITES’ previous success in slowing down the rate of illegal poaching in Africa is simply a testament to what “a sustained and collective front-line effort coupled with strong political support” can achieve. If anything, this news should be seen as the beginning of a victory. Conservationists should carry on with their valiant fight, as according to Mr Scanlon, it is imperative ”to drive home the advantage we have while the political momentum is with us,” as CITES is to reevaluate the implementation of NIAPs (National Ivory Action Plan) in the 9 nations posing a “primary concern” of the 27 countries most heavily involved in the illegal ivory trade. They plan on reconvening again this December in Geneva for their 69th meeting of the Standing Committee to further report on their progress towards ending the illegal ivory trade.