World Elephant Day: A Year in Review

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.

Good News

Bad News

  • 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. 

About the Authors

Elly Pepper

Wildlife Advocate, Land & Wildlife program

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