The African elephant crisis
According to the 2016 African elephant status report, an estimated 415,000-550,000 elephants are remaining compared to 3 to 5 million that roamed the vast expanses at the beginning of the 20th century. The factors contributing to these population decline includes the following;
Demand for ivory
The high demand for ivory is the biggest driver for illegal killing of elephants and illegal trade of elephant products leading to the drastic decline in elephant population. Despite CITES ban on international trade of ivory in 1989, thousands of elephants are still being killed to meet the growing demand for ivory products. An estimated 20,000 to 25,000 elephants are killed per year out of the remaining population. Between 2011 to 2013 over 150 tonnes of ivory was seized recording the highest volume of illegal ivory seized since global records began in 1989 (UN Environment, 2014).
Expansion of human population
Loss and fragmentation of elephants’ habitat brought about by expansion of human population, human settlement, urbanization and land conversion for human activities have also contributed to the decline of elephant population. According to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) elephants’ habitat shrank from three million square miles in 1979 to one million square miles in 2007.
The ever-increasing human population have also encroached into elephant habitats resulted into human-elephant conflict. The human population that borders elephant habitats or cross elephant migration corridors result into conflict such as damaging of farmers crops and property as well as loss of lives as farmers kill them as a form of retaliation due to the distraction caused by the elephants. While the number of elephants that die in such conflicts is much lower than the numbers poached for ivory, hundreds of elephants are killed every year as a result of human-elephant conflict.
Impact of climate change
Besides demand for ivory and human population, climate change is also emerging as a serious threat to African elephants’ survival. Climate change has contributed significantly to the decline of African elephants. Drought brought about by change in climate conditions have caused death of elephants, increased bush fires, altered elephant habitats as well as creating human-wildlife conflict as elephant prey on farmers crops for food resulting into their killings.
Aerial census in Amboseli and West Kilimanjaro
In Kenya, the collared elephant data has confirmed extensive elephant movement patterns between Kenya and Tanzania across the international boundary. These migrations are centered around Amboseli- Magadi area in Kenya and West Kilimanjaro-Natron in Tanzania that constitute the larger ecosystem. The extensive movement have been caused by challenges in terms of land tenure, land use system, drought and impacts of climate change among others. These have impacted negatively on the elephant population due to loss and fragmentation of elephants’ habitats and human elephant conflict.
In collaboration with the International Fund for Animal Welfare , Amboseli Ecosystems Trust, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Kenya Wildlife Service, the project entitled "Amboseli-West Kilimanjaro-Magadi-Natron ecosystem aerial mammal count" was implemented to determine elephant population and trends in the ecosystem, and advise on the appropriate management actions.
The aerial census aims to strengthen range States knowledge on African elephant management by determining elephant population abundance and distribution in the ecosystem, determining elephant population trends in the ecosystem over time, identifying threats to elephant conservation in the landscape, fostering cross-border collaboration on elephant population monitoring and management as well as suggesting strategies for effective elephant management across the landscape.
Military training for Gabon’s Park Rangers
In Gabon, the pressure of elephant poaching, which remained moderate until the end of the 1990s, has been increasing for the past ten years. It is estimated that between 2004 and 2012, about 10,000 to 16,000 elephants were killed, in and around Minkebe National Park, the largest park in Gabon. This poaching is linked to the dramatic increase in ivory poaching throughout the continent. With the rise of this wildlife crime, the underlined hypothesis clearly shows that in the next few years, the elephant populations will drastically decrease and faces extinction if no mitigation measures are taken.
To combat poaching, Gabon implemented a project entitled "Military training for Gabon’s Park Rangers" that trained 60 rangers at the Mokeko military training facility on patrolling, tracking, fast aid, military tactics, self-defense, firing range as well as mission planning. Through training of Gabon Park Rangers, the project strengthened the Gabon Park Rangers capacity to combat poaching and illegal trade in ivory and thus reduced poaching of elephants as well as improved protection of Gabon forest elephants.
Biodiversity training among local communities in Ghana
Ghana conducted biodiversity training among local communities and key stakeholders on elephant contribution and benefits to the ecosystem through a project entitled "Reducing human elephant conflict through improved monitoring, stakeholder engagement and law enforcement".
This project developed awareness program based on farmers’ knowledge needs and skills to promote good agricultural practices for enhancement of ecological health of the landscape and trained wildlife division staff with the skills to improve management and law enforcement of the protected areas. The project also strengthened bilateral cooperation among elephant range States in securing cross-border populations along the Bia-Diambarakro corridor between Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire.
Aerial survey of elephants in north-west of Namibia
In Namibia, through the project entitled "Aerial survey of elephants in the north-west of Namibia", Namibia conducted the first aerial census in almost 20 years to determine elephant population to understand the density and distribution of its elephant population.
The project collected baseline information on the density of elephant populations in the north-western region in Namibia, updated estimates of the number of elephants in the region and also collected data on elephant carcasses for submission to the Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants programme. The aerial census improved conservation planning for the development of elephant management strategies. Read more
Improved capacity in surveillance and intelligence gathering in Uganda
In Uganda, through the project entitled "Strengthening Law Enforcement against Elephant Poaching and Illegal Ivory Trade in Uganda" the Uganda Wildlife Authority established a canine department at Entebbe International Airport , improved capacity of staff in intelligence and investigations to fight illegal killing of elephants and ivory trade and acquired of two (2) environmental drones to combat poaching in Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls National Parks.
As a result of these activities conducted, the project increased the effectiveness of tracking and arresting elephant poachers within and outside the protected areas, trained investigations unit and patrol staff on intelligence gathering and equipped Uganda Wildlife Authority with modern technology and equipment for more effective ivory detection and surveillance activities including the management of the national ivory stockpile.
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