New elephant population numbers have been released at a wildlife conference in London this week, and it doesn't look good for elephants. The data shows that sixty-five percent of the world's forest elephants have been slaughtered by poachers over the last 12 years -- a figure that amounts to a baffling nine percent of the population annually.
Forest elephants, living mostly in Central and West Africa in the Congo rainforest, are a distinct genetic species from savannah elephants, but they are still threatened by the same things -- most notably, poaching and the ivory trade.
"At least a couple of hundred thousand forest elephants were lost between 2002-2013 to the tune of at least sixty a day, or one every twenty minutes, day and night," said Fiona Maisels, a researcher with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to Mongabay [Warning: Link contains disturbing images]. "By the time you eat breakfast, another elephant has been slaughtered to produce trinkets for the ivory market."
According to researchers, the countries forest elephants live in, like the Democratic Republic of Congo, are crippled by poverty and corruption -- tough challenges for conservation.
"The current number and distribution of elephants is mind-boggling when compared to what it should be," said Samantha Strindberg, also with WCS and co-author of the paper. "About 95 percent of the forests of DRC are almost empty of elephants."
There is some hope though -- world leaders have expressed a renewed commitment to fighting wildlife trafficking of late, first with a pledge by the Obama Administration to ban ivory trade in the U.S., and then with the conference in London, which officials have called a "turning point" for trade.
ACTION ALERT: Ivory
The ivory trade is the biggest driver of elephant poaching in the world, despite a global CITES ban on the sale of ivory since 1990. In 2012 alone, 22,000 African elephants were killed, often to supply a major consumer demand in Asia, especially in China. To avoid products that could help fuel the ivory trade, check out this guide by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In the Unites States, there is also concern that "vintage" ivory (not from recent poaching) contributes to the ivory demand, and therefore poaching (see The Nature Conservancy for information about how most antique "legal" ivory is in fact not). To beome active in this issue, you can become in campaigns by World Wildlife Fund, International Fund for Animal Welfare, International Conservation Caucus Foundation.)