Up to 730,000 elephants are ‘missing’ from Africa’s sanctuaries amid fears they are being sla.ugh.tered, a report has found.
Conservationists in South Africa have blamed ‘pervasive poaching’ for the dramatic reduction in numbers across 73 designated areas spanning 21 African countries.
Researchers from the Conservation Ecology Research Unit (CERU) at the University of Pretoria have called for action to protect the animals.
But they said the situation didn’t have to be all ‘doom and gloom’ as the findings could serve as a global wake-up call.
Study author Ashley Robson said: ‘We’ve had relatively good estimates of how many elephants there are and how many are poached. But now, we have determined how many elephants there are in the first place.
‘While the extent of the damage from po.a.ching is devastating – 730.000 elephants are missing across 73 assessed reserves – I don’t see our work as more doom and gloom. While conservation goals are a positive step, our study is a wake-up call.
‘On the contrary, we provide ecologically meaningful targets for elephant conservationists to work towards. It’s a positive step for elephants. ‘
Remote sensors were used to monitor vegetation and water used by elephant populations while po.ac.hing statistics were also taken into account when producing the figures.
The researchers, who published their findings in PLOS ONE, also used the largest population database of any mammal species to model the density at which individual populations would stabilize.
Mr. Robson added: ‘Everyone with an interest in conservation – protected area managers, policy-makers, international donors, and the public – should consider our research.
‘We have made it possible to target resources to the protected areas with the greatest need. Of course, this is not only for the benefit of elephants; Elephants played an important role in the formation of savannas in Africa the cover as much land as the USA and continental Europe combined.
‘The loss of elephants is detrimental to our savannas and the species that depend on them.
‘While conservation goals are a positive step, our study is a wake-up call.
‘About 70% of the African elephant population currently distributed is outside protected areas. Elephants are not doing well, even where protected, which means we need to act. ‘
In August, a separate study found that the savanna elephant population in Africa is rapidly declining, and the animals are at risk of being wiped out as the domestic and international ivory trade fuels poaching across the continent.
According to a survey sponsored by Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul Allen, Africa’s savanna elephant population plummeted about 30% between 2007 and 2014 and is declining about 8% a year.
‘If we can’t save the African elephant, what is the hope of preserving the rest of Africa’s wildlife?’ Elephant ecologist Mike Chase, who led the study, said in a statement. ‘I am hopeful that, with the right tools, research, conservation efforts, and political will, we can help conserve elephants for decades to come.’
The aerial survey includes 18 countries using dozens of planes to fly, the equivalent of going to the moon and partway back. The study called the Great Elephant Census and involved 90 scientists, estimated a population of 352,271 savanna elephants.
Overall, the researchers found about 12 carcasses for every 100 live elephants, suggesting po.a.ching levels are high enough to cause population decline. But the rates were much higher than that in some countries.
The study said that Angola, Mozambique, and Tanzania have experienced more population declines than previously known, and elephants face local extinction in areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, and Zambia. It also said elephant numbers in South Africa, Uganda, parts of Malawi, and Kenya were either stabilized or partially increasing.