African Elephant Census Paints Bleak Picture

The Push Toward Extinction Gaining Momentum

Results of a new survey reveal that Africa’s savannah elephants are going fast. The Great Elephant Census estimates that about 352,000 elephants remain—down from previous estimates of 419,000 to 650,000 elephants in 2013. The authors estimate that they recorded 93 percent of all savannah elephants. Elephants in Africa are threatened by poaching for their ivory, habitat loss and human encroachment and conflict.

elephant conservation Africa

“The statistics are frightening, and I hope they shock people out of their apathy so we can stem the tide,” said Mike Chase, founder of Elephants Without Borders, the group that oversaw the $7 million project.

A team that included 90 researchers from governments and conservation groups collectively flew 288,000 miles of aerial surveys — the equivalent of circling the globe almost a dozen times. They covered 18 countries, focusing on the national parks, refuges and range lands that are home to 93 percent of savanna elephants. Even in protected areas, researchers found many carcasses of elephants killed by poachers.

If the rate of decline continues at the current level of 8 percent per year, the continent will lose half its elephants within nine years and some populations could be wiped out, Chase said.

But the survey also uncovered some bright spots. Elephant numbers in Uganda more than quadrupled since the late 1980s. In Botswana, which is home to Africa’s largest elephant population, numbers held steady in many areas. And in a little-known park complex in Western Africa where the researchers expected to find perhaps 1,000 animals, they counted a thriving population of 9,000.

“The Great Elephant Census is an amazing feat of technology and science working together for wildlife — but these results are shocking,” said Tanya Sanerib, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Elephant populations in Africa are declining at an alarming rate and more severely than we anticipated.”

Tanzania wildlife conservation

“The data now clearly show that if we don’t act immediately to stop poaching, close ivory markets and extend the strictest protections to elephants, we’ll lose these iconic creatures forever,” Sanerib continued.

The survey results do not include Namibia (which refused to release its survey results but is estimated to have more than 22,000 elephants, bringing the total to 375,000 elephants) or South Sudan and the Central African Republic, where surveys could not be completed due to armed conflict. The surveys were only conducted for savannah elephants and did not include forest elephants, a separate and smaller species inhabiting west and central Africa. Forest elephants could not be surveyed using the same aerial techniques due to the forested ecosystems they inhabit.

“Forest elephant populations are already known to be decreasing at alarming rates and now the Great Elephant Census has revealed that savannah elephants are in the same boat,” Sanerib concluded. “A world without elephants would be a very sad place and it’s time for international action on the ivory trade to make sure we never live in that world.”

forest elephants Arabuko Sokoke Kenya

Now, it’s up to individual nations and international regulators like CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, to crack down on poaching and protect elephants, Chase said.

“The Great Elephant Census holds us to account,” he said. “We can no longer use ignorance about elephant numbers to avoid action.”

In addition to the threat from poachers, elephants and other endangered species are losing critical habitat to expanding human populations. The battle over land use and water will play an increasing role with every passing day.

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Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information gary@crossbow1.com

Africa Losing 40,000 Elephants Every Year To Poaching

Elephant Conservation Demands Intervention

Poachers killed an estimated 100,000 elephants across Africa between 2010 and 2012, a huge spike in the continent’s death rate of the world’s largest mammals because of an increased demand for ivory in China and other Asian nations, a new study published Monday found.

Warnings about massive elephant slaughters have been ringing for years, but Monday’s study is the first to scientifically quantify the number of deaths across the continent by measuring deaths in one closely monitored park in Kenya and using other published data to extrapolate fatality tolls across the continent.

elephant conservation Africa

The study — which was carried out by the world’s leading elephant experts — found that the proportion of illegally killed elephants has climbed from 25 percent of all elephant deaths a decade ago to roughly 65 percent of all elephant deaths today, a percentage that, if continued, will lead to the extinction of the species.

China’s rising middle class and the demand for ivory in that country of 1.3 billion people is driving the black market price of ivory up, leading to more impoverished people in Africa “willing to take the criminal risk on and kill elephants. The causation in my mind is clear,” said the study’s lead author, George Wittemyer of Colorado State University.

The peer-review study was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was co-authored by experts from Save the Elephants, the Kenya Wildlife Service, an international group called MIKE responsible for monitoring the illegal killings of elephants, and two international universities.

“The current demand for ivory is unsustainable. That is our overarching conclusion. It must come down. Otherwise the elephants will continue to decrease,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants.

Elephant deaths are not happening at the same rate across Africa. The highest death rate is in central Africa, with East Africa — Tanzania and Kenya — not far behind. Botswana is a bright spot, with a population that is holding steady or growing. South Africa’s rhinos are being killed, but poachers have not yet begun attacking elephants.

forest elephants Arabuko Sokoke Kenya

Some individual elephant death numbers are shocking. The elephant population in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve dropped from 40,000 to 13,000 over the last three years.

China is aware of its image problem concerning the ivory trade. The embassy in Kenya this month donated anti-poaching equipment to four wildlife conservancies. Chinese Ambassador Liu Xianfa said at the handover ceremony that China is increasing publicity and education of its people to increase understanding of the illegal ivory trade.

“Wildlife crimes are a cross-border menace,” Liu said, according to a transcript of the ceremony published by Kenya’s Capital FM. “I assure you that more action will follow as will support to fulfil our promise. We firmly believe that, through joint efforts, the drive of combating wildlife crimes will achieve success.”

Counting elephants is extremely difficult. Even Douglas-Hamilton refuses to offer an estimate as to how many live in Africa. An often-cited number is roughly 400,000, but the Save the Elephants founder would argue that no one truly knows.

Counting elephant deaths is just as hard. But a Save the Elephants project in northern Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve has counted elephant births and deaths — including if the death was natural or from poachers — for the last 16 years. Using that data, the authors examined known death numbers in other African regions compared with the rate of natural deaths and were able to determine that the continent’s deaths between 2010-2012 were about 100,000.

elephant poaching Africa

“This is the best work available from the best data we have using officials from the top organization, so in my mind this is the best you are going to get at the moment,” said Wittemyer. “Because of the magnitude of the issue and the politics we’ve been very careful. The scrutiny we did internally was at a much greater level than the questions we got in the peer review process.”

Despite the huge death numbers, both Wittemyer and Douglas-Hamilton believe elephants can survive. Wittemyer said more elephants will be killed, but in areas where countries are willing to invest in wildlife security numbers will hold steady, he said. Elephants survived a huge poaching crisis in the 1970s and 1980s fueled by Japan, Douglas-Hamilton noted.

“I have to be an optimist,” he said. “I’ve been through all of this before in the 70s and 80s. As a collective group we stopped that killing, and in the savannahs there was a reprieve of 20 years. I believe we can do it again.”

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/18/100000-elephants-killed_n_5688893.html

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Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, carbon capture, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. 

Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information gary@crossbow1.com

Poachers Kill Kenya’s Biggest Bull Elephant

Government Denies Wildlife Crisis

By Paula Kahumbu

Satao lived in Tsavo East National park in northern Kenya and was celebrated as one of the last surviving great tuskers, bearers of genes that produce bull elephants with huge tusks reaching down to the ground. This news follows hard on the heels of the slaughter of another legendary tusker, Mountain Bull, deep inside the forests of Mt. Kenya.

elephant conservation plan Tanzania

Of all the elephants that have died in Kenya, these deaths are the hardest to bear. The grief in Kenya at the slaughter of our iconic elephants is translating into floods of tears, emotional poems, and outrage on Twitter and Facebook.

I had suspected for days that Satao was dead. The rumours were too many and they came from too many different people for them not to be true. Bad news travels fast in Kenya. Moreover, like everyone who had ever heard of Satao, I was already concerned for his safety.

I first learned about Satao through an emotional and beautifully writtenblog post by Mark Deeble, who described him as being so intelligent that he knew he needed to protect his enormous tusks by intentionally hiding in bushes so they couldn’t be seen. At the end of the post Mark wrote:

I am appalled at what that means – that the survival skills that the bull has painstakingly learnt over half a century have been rendered useless by the poachers’ use of mass-produced Chinese goods; GPS smart-phones, cheap motorcycles and night vision goggles. I think the old bull knows that poachers want his tusks, and I hate that he knows. More than anything, I hate the thought that poachers are now closing in on one of the world’s most iconic elephants.

Then in early March, during the great elephant census, we heard that the poachers had got to him. Mike Chase from Elephants without Borders reported seeing two seeping wounds on Satao’s flank. Veterinarians rushed to the scene and confirmed that these were arrow wounds. 

elephant conservation Tanzania

It’s hard to imagine what was going through the minds of the poachers on the day that they approached this mountain of an elephant and shot at him with crude bows and poisoned arrows. It must have been terrifying and yet the sight of his massive gleaming tusks probably left them salivating with greed. 

For days Satao must have endured excruciating pain from the festering wounds. But he recovered and we all heaved a sigh of relief when it was reported that his wounds were healing on their own. The Facebook post by Save the Elephants about his recovery attracted more 200 “get well soon” comments.

Then in the first week of June Richard Moller, Executive Director of The Tsavo Trust, found a massive elephant carcass in a swamp. “I knew instinctively in my gut that this was Satao, but there was a tiny chance that I was wrong. I had to verify it before we go public,” Richard told me.

The Tsavo Trust runs an inspirational campaign to bring attention to Kenya’s last great tuskers. Their work brings huge joy and celebration every time an elephant with tusks sweeping to the ground is found.

elephant poaching Africa

When I heard that Satao may have been killed, I posted a message on Facebook. I said I hoped that the rumours were wrong and that Satao was safe. I had to hastily remove the post after Richard explained: “We don’t want to alarm people if there’s even a 1% chance that Satao is still alive.”

For days Richard and (Kenyan Wildlife Service) KWS rangers visited the carcass. It was certainly a giant tusker, but it was hard to tell if this was Satao, as the face was mutilated face and the tusks gone. They flew over the park and searched for Satao, hoping against all odds that he was still alive.

Then finally, yesterday on 12 June, Richard admitted to me that his first gut feeling had been right:

Today I had to write my official report to KWS and confirm to them that Satao is dead. It was the hardest report that I have ever written, I couldn’t see past a wall of tears. 

In voice choked with grief he begged me not to post anything on this blog until KWS had officially broken the news.

It is not only the rangers in Tsavo or those who knew Satao who are sorrowful, all of Kenya is in a state of deep grief. Satao was not just a Kenyan icon, he was a global treasure. He was of such a phenomenal size that we knew poachers would want him, and no effort was spared to protect him. He had 24/7 protection from KWS and conservation organizations. Even as we mourn Satao’s passing, Kenyan’s are asking: what went wrong?

It may take days for the KWS to provide more details about this terrible news. The country’s authorities are loath to admit the scale of the current crisis.

According to the latest figures published by KWS, 97 elephants have been poached in Kenya so far this year. Nobody in Kenya believes this figure, which suggests that less than one percent of the national elephant population have fallen to poachers’ guns.

The official figures do not tally with the many reports of elephant killings in and around the Masai Mara, Samburu, Loita Hills, Marsabit, Tsavo, Mount Kenya, Aberdares, Shimba Hills and the north eastern coastal forests.

I estimate, from the reports I have seen, that the elephant poaching in Kenya is at least 10 times the official figures, but it is impossible to verify this as the KWS jealously guards the elephant mortality database.

A few brave people within the system describe a systematic cover up of the real figures. To many of us Kenyans, this problem is even more serious than the poaching. Our wildlife services are like the drug addicts who are the most difficult to help, those in denial that there is a problem to be fixed. 

Those at the helm who craft the KWS’s communications seem blissfully unaware of the damage caused to Kenya’s reputation by the lack of transparency and accountability around poaching figures.

Kenyans are angry and confused. Elephants do not belong to KWS but to the people of Kenya. Elephants are an important national asset that make a significant contribution to Kenya’s GDP through tourism. It is therefore in the national interest that the correct figures are shared with the public.

It is also confusing for donors. KWS is fighting furiously for funds to strengthen anti-poaching efforts, and massive ivory seizures also continue to snatch headlines, but according to official figures and statements, there is no elephant poaching crisis.

The appalling news of Satao’s death comes at a time when Kenya is preparing to showcase our conservation successes at the UNEP Governing Assembly which starts on 24 June. Instead Kenyan delegates will bear the heavy burden of conveying the news of the passing of this gentle, intelligent and compassionate giant.

I call on Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, to set the tone for the Governing Assembly by starting with a minute’s silence: so that delegates can reflect on their duty of care towards our fellow beings, and in memory of Satao, Mountain Bull, and all the others who have died before them.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/africa-wild/2014/jun/13/kenyas-biggest-elephant-killed-by-poachers?CMP=twt_gu

climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, carbon capture, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems.

Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information gary@crossbow1.com