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Our Grandchildren May Never See Elephants Because They'll All Be Gone

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Elephants are being slaughtered faster than they are being born.

In fact, African elephants could be extinct in our lifetime if current trends continue, new data released Monday at a major conservation summit in Botswana shows. The numbers, compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, show that the elephant population declined from 550,000 in 2006 to 470,000 in 2013.

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That rate of killing is "unsustainable," Elias Magosi, an official with the environment ministry in Botswana, where the Africa Elephant Summit is being held, told Agence France-Presse (AFP). He pointed to international criminal networks that ferry illegal ivory to markets in Asia as a main driver of poaching.

"These syndicates take advantage of conflicts, social unrest, poor governance," he told AFP.

Oddly, although elephant deaths have increased, poaching numbers have actually leveled off since the peak of poaching in 2011.

How can poaching be stable, but elephant deaths are on the rise?

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As it turns out, the slaughter rates are still higher than the rate at which elephants can reproduce. With a 22-month gestation period (one of the longest in the animal kingdom), elephants are slow reproducers, and they birth a new calf only every four to five years. As these slow-breeding giants struggle to recover from 2011's poaching onslaught, current poaching is still keeping their numbers down.

The conference - which includes delegates from 20 countries across Europe, Africa and Asia, including the world's largest ivory market, China - is asking high-ranking politicians to help reduce the slaughter of Africa's elephants by ramping up elephant protection and enforcing laws on the illegal ivory trade.