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Elephants on the brink

African Elephant numbers are dangerously low, showing 'worst decline in 25 years'.

Elephants on the brink

The number of African elephants dropped by about 111,000 in the past decade as a result of poaching, according to a report released at the Johannesburg conference on the wildlife trade this month.

The report by the IUCN conservation group put Africa’s total elephant population at around 415,000, a decline of around 111,000 over the past decade.

It’s estimated that in 1800 there may have been up 26 million elephants in Africa alone, but nw the species is reduced to less than half a million after years of poaching and habitat destruction.

This IUCN African Elephant Status Report is the most authoritative source of knowledge about the numbers and distribution of African elephant populations across their 37 range states in sub-Saharan Africa. It summarises, for the first time in almost a decade, elephant numbers at the continental, regional and national levels, and examines changes in population estimates at the site level.

News of the worst drop in elephant numbers in 25 years came amid disagreement on the second day of the global meeting over the best way to improve the plight of the animals.

For thousands of years elephants have been killed for their ivory; the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun was laid to rest on a headrest of ivory, and in nearby Syria elephants were more or less wiped out for their ivory by 500BC. The 19th century ushered in big game hunting among colonialists, which wiped out herds across the continent of Africa. The remaining numbers face the threat of local hunters and modern poaching gangs.

“The surge in poaching for ivory that began approximately a decade ago – the worst that Africa has experienced since the 1970s and 1980s – has been the main driver of the decline,” said IUCN chief Inger Andersen said the numbers showed “the truly alarming plight of the majestic elephant”.

“It is shocking but not surprising that poaching has taken such a dramatic toll on this iconic species,” she said.

It’s estimated that only 50,000 elephants remain in Asia, with most of them in India, with very small populations clinging on across south-east Asia and the Himalayas.

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