Tomorrow is World Elephant Day, which always makes me reflect on what the past year brought for elephants. As usual, it’s a mix of good and bad. The bottom line: the situation is improving, but not quickly enough.
Here's some of the highlights—both good and bad—from the past year.
- 2016 trends in the poaching of African elephants show that the steady increase in the levels of elephant poaching witnessed since 2006 has stabilized.
- Over the past year, several powerful poaching kingpins have been arrested in countries including Mozambique, Congo, and Indonesia.
- Countries continue to hold ivory crushes to show the world that they are committed to ending the elephant poaching crisis, with roughly seven occurring over the past year including last week's the crush in Central Park.
- China—the world’s largest ivory market – is in the process of shutting down its ivory market and will do so completely by Dec. 31, 2017.
- The U.S. ivory bans—both at the federal level and in states like New York, California, and Hawaii—seem to be working, resulting in large ivory seizures (see e.g., here, here, and here).
- Two of the largest international forums for species protection—the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress (IUCN WCC) delivered wins for elephants last fall by agreeing that countries should close their legal domestic ivory markets in order to save elephants.
- The worldwide attention directed towards elephants over the past several years is helping. As CITES Secretary General Jon Scanlon stated: “The momentum generated over the past few years is continuing to translate into deeper and stronger efforts to fight these crimes on the front line, where it is needed most—from the rangers in the field, to police and customs at ports of entry and exit and across illicit markets.”
- Elephants populations continue to decline. Indeed, the Great Elephant Census found that African savannah elephants declined by over 30% between 2007-2014.
- Poaching is still rampant. A study published in PNAS last fall shows that illegal ivory is coming from recently-killed elephants--not old stockpiles. And the CITES MIKE Monitoring Program found that “estimated poaching rates overall remain higher than the normal growth rate of elephant populations” meaning the elephant population will likely continue to decline.
- Even if poaching stopped now, it would take a LONG time for elephants to recover. As shown here, since forest elephants are one the slowest reproducing mammals in the world, it will take almost a century for them to return to pre-2002 levels.
- Not only do some countries still maintain ivory stockpiles, but we don’t even know how much they have due to their failure to report this information. Not knowing how much is out there (and not being able to test it) makes it
- Most countries where large seizures occur are failing to produce itemized inventory lists of the contents of these seizures and other details, foregoing critical opportunities to determine where the ivory came from and what poaching networks (and other seizures) they may be linked to.
- President Trump’s support for elephants is questionable. He’s unlikely to approve the current petition to uplist African elephants from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act and could undo some of the elephant protections President Obama implemented (tell him to maintain such protections here!). And the Republican Congress is no fan of pro-elephant policies either (see, e.g., this bill). This means we are going to have to fight tooth and nail to defend our nation’s ivory ban and other elephant safeguards.