The African elephant population has decreased a staggering 30 per cent in the past seven years.
That means that there are 144,000 fewer elephants now roaming the continent, according to The Great Elephant Census (GEC).
The $7 million project was launched in 2014 by philanthropist and Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen and Vulcan Philanthropy. It spanned 18 countries, with more than 90 scientists and NGOs working together.
Researchers spent two years counting all the elephants in Africa’s savannas, and called the results heartbreaking.
“Many of us suspected that the situation was this bad, but we couldn’t prove it,” James Deutsch of Vulcan Philanthropy said. “So now we have the hard evidence, we can move forward to action.”
The project named poaching as the primary reason for the decline. Poachers usually slaughter the animals, chop off their ivory tusks and leave the elephant carcasses behind.
“This is being driven by international organized crime syndicates with connections to corruption and in some cases connections to terrorism,” Deutsch explained to Global News
He said while the elephant ivory goes all over the world, about 70 per cent of the ivory ends up in China.
Simon Hedges, a conservation coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society, told Global News the desire for ivory in East Asia is “seemingly insatiable”.
He called the population numbers both worrying and depressing.
“Unless we as a conservation community really redouble our efforts to combat the poaching … we’re going to see local extinctions … potentially some countries losing their elephant populations altogether,” Hedges said.
But wildlife conservationists are hopeful new policies from China, which are expected to close down the ivory market in that country, could stem the lucrative sport.
“Everyone thinks that will be again a game changer for Africa’s elephants and indeed for Asia’s elephants too when China is the largest market for ivory in the world,” Hedges said. “There are certainly – there are signs of hope on the horizon.”
“If we all work together, we can solve this crisis as we did in 1989 at the end of a similar crisis,” Deutsch said.
Another surprising fact was that elephants in so-called protected areas weren’t actually safe, according to the report.
“Most of the elephants outside of protected areas have already been killed, so the poachers are going where the elephants are,” Deutsch said .
*With files from Global National’s Allison Vuchnich