This week's release of peer-reviewed research showing that the poaching of African elephants has driven the species to a tipping point should serve as a clear indication to conservationists, law enforcement and military agencies that current strategies to secure elephant populations are not effective and that an improved course of action is necessary. The findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show a significant increase in the illegal killing of elephants beginning in 2008 and continuing to the present day, with a probable annual decline in elephant numbers of three percent per year. Over a three year period, approximately 100,000 elephants died at the hands of poachers, with approximately 40,000 elephants being killed in 2011 alone.
The conservation implications of this trend are obvious, and the related regional security issues concerning the role of illicit ivory in financing terrorism have been well documented and analyzed. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the wildlife monitoring network TRAFFIC, have jointly issued some general recommendations for arresting the elephant poaching crisis. Similarly, the United States has adopted a visionary National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking. However, specific points of policy have been generally lacking in suggestions about how best to address the poaching crisis and related security threats. For elephant conservation efforts to move forward we must begin identifying specific policies and actions that will help bring an end to the killing.