The Plight of the African Elephant



Video Transcription

African elephants are truly iconic beasts of the African continent, however, over the last century, their numbers have decreased significantly due to a variety of problems. International efforts are in place and continue to grow in order to save this wondrous animal from the large variety of threats. Unfortunately, the battle for their survival is not a simple, easy or even safe matter. This video will discuss some of the problems facing the survival of African Elephants.

Two species of elephant are found in Africa, the most prevalent being Loxodonta africana, or the bush elephant and less common Loxodonta cyclotis or Forest Elephant. The forest elephant is slightly smaller and restricted to the Congo Basin. The bush elephant has a much larger distribution range and exploits habitats that range from forest to desert. Although the two species used to be considered as one, modern DNA sequencing estimates the divergence between the two species to have occurred roughly 2.5 to 5.5 million years ago. Therefore, conservation efforts and law now face two threatened species.

In a wild environment, elephants suffer from very little predation. Some of the old, sick or young may be caught by a large pride of lions or even a clan of hyenas, however, the main threat to elephants remain homo sapiens. Although population estimates may not be perfectly accurate, human encroachment, hunting, poaching, poisoning and other human influences have reduced the population significantly. From an estimated 3 to 5 million individuals in the 1940's have been reduced to roughly 415 000 individuals according to The International Union for Conservation of Nature. With a decline of more than 100 000 in just the last decade. Some estimates state that each year the population is being reduced by almost 10%.

The primary threats to elephant populations include the following.

A decrease in habitat availability due to human population and distribution growth. This leads to conflict for resources and territory, such as safe farmland for local communities and clean drinking water. Damage done to community crops by elephants is especially a hot topic and remains one of the largest concerns for communities that share their space with elephants. The lack of proper land use planning and enforcement by the government also plays its part, allowing for such conflict to easily exist.

An influx of illegal hunting and poaching for meat, ivory and traditional medicine. Although trading in ivory is banned globally by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a massive black market and demand continue to decimate elephant populations. Some poaching sprees lasting a few days may leave hundreds of individuals dead. The meat is also revered, along with other parts of the elephants used in traditional medicine. However, their coveted ivory remains the primary source of their downfall.

Severe poverty also plays a major role. Since education, social welfare and economic strife are commonplace in Africa, many turn to the black market and poaching for opportunities. This creates large networks of illegal animal trade that in some cases fund extremism and the wars in Africa.

The policing of illegal wildlife trade also faces many challenges. Antipoaching and wildlife specialist policing often face life-threatening situations in harsh, extensive environments. Those that poach are often heavily armed bands of para-military that open fire upon discovery. The threat of death does not only fall on anti-poachers and police but even the assassination of key conservationists or community members who speak up against poaching.

Lack of propper funding and training.

More threats to the survival of this brilliant species exist, however, will not be discussed today. These threats do not only affect elephants but all manner of fauna and flora. It is, therefore, imperative that we hastily try and rectify this problem. As a keystone species, many environments rely on the presence of elephants for a healthy system. By removing the elephants it affects countless other species, including us.

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