Poaching and trophy hunting has contributed to the rapid decline in elephant populations across Africa.
About 350,000 elephants are left in Africa, and thousands are estimated killed each year by poachers. Elephant poaching rates in the continent have started to decline after reaching a peak in 2011.
However, Botswana, which has the most number of elephant population or about one-third of the continent's total, recently lifted its five-year hunting ban on elephants, further endangering the already threatened animals.
Decline In Annual Elephant Poaching
In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, a team of scientists from the University of York, University of Freiburg, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, revealed a decline in annual poaching mortality rate of elephants from an estimated peak of over 10 percent in 2011 to less than 4 percent in 2017.
The researchers analyzed data from 53 protected sites across 29 countries between 2002 and 2017. Despite the declining poaching rate, Africa's elephant population remains threatened, especially without a continuing action to resolve poverty, corruption, and decrease the demand for ivory.
"We are seeing a downturn in poaching, which is obviously positive news, but it is still above what we think is sustainable so the elephant populations are declining," said Dr. Colin Beale from the University of York's Department of Biology.
Beale further said that to ensure the long-term survival of elephants, there is a need to reduce the demand for ivory in Asia and improve the livelihood of people who are living with elephants in Africa. The researchers also highlighted that poverty and corruption are two variables that influence local poaching rates.
Elephant numbers have dropped by 62 percent over the last decade and could be mostly extinct by the end of the next decade. As of 2018, there are still more African elephants being killed for ivory than elephants being born.
Botswana Lifts Ban On Elephant Hunting
An elephant hunting ban in Botswana where an estimate of 120,000 and 130,000 African elephants can be found, helped the country emerge as a conservation success story. However, Botswana's government has recently overturned the ban, earning the ire of conservationists who have lobbied to preserve the prohibition.
The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation, and Tourism said the decision to lift the ban was based on a general consensus and extensive consultations with stakeholders. The agency cited the rising human-elephant conflict as one of the reasons for ending the ban. Elephants keep eating the crops and trampling the fields of rural farmers.
Officials said the ban has caused local communities to suffer due to loss of income from trophy hunters. Experts, on the other hand, said hunting is not a credible method of population control or an effective way to combat higher rates of violence and damage.
The ban was implemented in 2014 by former President Ian Khama who is known for his conservationist principles and a tough stance against poaching and trophy hunting. His predecessor, Mokgweetsi E.K. Masisi, created a committee to reevaluate the ban in 2018 shortly after winning the presidency.