An updated assessment by a United Nations Environment Programme-administered treaty confirms poaching continues to threaten the long-term survival of the African elephant.
Based on the Proportion of Illegally Killed Elephants data, or PIKE, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) evaluated levels of illegal killing through MIKE, the acronym for the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants programme.
MIKE calculates illegal killing is the chief cause of death for elephants.
Evidence reveals PIKE levels peaked in 2011 when 10% of African elephants were poached, before steadily declining through to 2017. That level remained relatively unchanged last year.
High PIKE levels are a concern because even in well-established and protected elephant populations, annual losses to illegal killing and other mortalities are not compensated by birth rates according to CITES.
Many African elephant populations are small, fragmented and not well-protected, making them more vulnerable to poaching. As PIKE levels remain above 0.5 in Africa, the number of elephants in some countries continues to decline.
African elephant populations fell from an estimated 12 million a century ago, to around 400 000, according to estimates in the 2016 African Elephant Status Report.
“Illegal killing of African elephants for ivory remains a significant threat to elephant populations in most range States,” CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero said. “At the same time, the human population of Africa has grown tenfold, from 125 million to 1,225 million, creating competition for land.”
International trade in elephant ivory has been banned by CITES since 1990, opinions differ about whether it should continue or not.
The African elephant and the debate over the ivory trade will be a major item on the agenda of the next triennial CITES Conference of the Parties, originally planned for May in Colombo, Sri Lanka, but now rescheduled for a later date.
“We must reduce poaching and illegal trade in ivory and find solutions to ensure co-existence of elephants and local people. The international community should expand work with African range states to find solutions for elephants and local communities,” he said.