Elephants are the largest land mammals on earth. In the past decade, the number of African elephants dropped by more than 100,000 – that’s approximately 62% – as a result of poaching and habitat destruction. It’s estimated that in 1800 there may have been up 26 million elephants in Africa alone, but now the species is reduced to less than half a million after years of poaching and habitat destruction.
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 International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) chief Inger Andersen said the numbers showed “the truly alarming plight of the majestic elephant”. She added that: “It is shocking but not surprising that poaching has taken such a dramatic toll on this iconic species.”
Today, there are an estimated 450,000 – 700,000 African elephants and between 35,000 – 40,000 wild Asian elephants left in the world.