African elephants are being slaughtered for their ivory at a pace unseen since an international ban on the ivory trade took effect in 1989. But the public outcry that resulted in that ban is absent today, and a University of Washington conservation biologist contends it is because the public seems to be unaware of the giant mammals' plight.
The elephant death rate from poaching throughout Africa is about 8 percent a year based on recent studies, which is actually higher than the 7.4 percent annual death rate that led to the international ivory trade ban nearly 20 years ago, said Samuel Wasser, a UW biology professor.
But the poaching death rate in the late 1980s was based on a population that numbered more than 1 million. Today the total African elephant population is less than 470,000.
"If the trend continues, there won't be any elephants except in fenced areas with a lot of enforcement to protect them," said Wasser.
He is lead author of a paper in the August issue of Conservation Biology that contends elephants are on a course that could mean most remaining large groups will be extinct by 2020 unless renewed public pressure brings about heightened enforcement.
Co-authors are William Clark of the Interpol Working Group on Wildlife Crime and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, Ofir Drori of the Last Great Ape Organization in Cameroon, Emily Kisamo of the Lusaka Agreement Task Force in Kenya, Celia Mailand of the UW, Benezeth Mutayoba of Sokoine University in Tanzania and Matthew Stephens of the University of Chicago.
Wasser's laboratory has developed DNA tools that can determine which elephant population ivory came from. That is important because often poachers attack elephants in one country but ship the contraband ivory from an adjacent nation to throw off law enforcement.
For instance, 6.5 tons of ivory seized in Singapore in 2002 were shipped from Malawi, but DNA tracking
|Contact: Vince Stricherz|
University of Washington