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24 Nov 2014: Record Number of Rhinos Poached In South Africa, Government Says

South African officials have announced that 1,020 rhinos have been killed so far in 2014 — a total that

White rhino in South Africa
surpasses last year’s record slaughter of 1,004 of the endangered animals. Poaching has been on the rise in South Africa, home to the world’s largest population of rhinos, since 2007, when only seven rhinos were killed. The sharp increase is occurring despite steps by the government to improve enforcement and introduce new technologies and intelligence-gathering methods to curb poaching, Mongabay reports. As of 2010, South Africa was home to more than 18,000 white rhinos — over 90 percent of the global population — and nearly 2,000 black rhinos. The animals are being killed for their horns, which are in high demand in China and Vietnam for their supposed, but unproven, medicinal qualities.


07 Nov 2014: Organized Chinese Crime Behind Tanzania's Elephant Slaughter, Report Says

Chinese-led criminal organizations have been conspiring with corrupt Tanzanian officials to traffic huge amounts

Poached elephant skull in Selous Reserve
of ivory — a trade that has caused half of Tanzania’s elephants to be poached in the past five years — according to a report by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency. In some cases, Chinese military officials appeared to be complicit in the illegal activities, the report says, and in other instances, prominent Tanzanian businessmen and politicians helped protect ivory traffickers. Tanzania is the largest source of poached ivory in the world, and China is the largest importer of smuggled tusks, according to EIA. Tanzania’s famed Selous Reserve saw its elephant population plunge by 67 percent in four years, from 50,000 animals to 13,000. Tanzania appears to have lost more elephants to poaching during this period than any other country, EIA said.


E360 Video Winner: Intimate Look
At the Bighorn Sheep of the Rockies

“Peak to Peak,” the third-place winner of the Yale Environment 360 Video Contest, focuses on a herd of bighorn sheep in Montana and features remarkable scenes of lambs as they gambol along the slopes of the northern Rockies. Produced by Jeremy Roberts, the video follows a field biologist as he monitors the sheep and talks about the possible impact of climate change on the animals’ future.
Watch the video.


23 Sep 2014: Food Security Issues Often
Neglected After Extreme Weather Events

Extreme weather events — the sort likely to arise with increasing frequency as the planet warms — took a heavy toll on Russia and East Africa in 2010 and 2011, in large part because governments and authorities were ill-equipped to address resulting food shortages and other fallout, according to researchers at the University of Oxford. Russia experienced a heat wave that led to food hoarding and price-fixing of staple crops by speculators, according to the report, which was commissioned by Oxfam. A drought in East Africa in 2010 through 2011 was tied to an uptick in armed conflicts in the region, which interrupted international and domestic aid for six months. Crop prices reached record levels in several markets, including wheat in Ethiopia, maize in Kenya, and red sorghum grain in Somalia, the report notes. Investing in additional health facilities, establishing pre-positioned food supplies, and other tactics aimed at mitigating the effects of future heat waves, droughts, and floods, could help to blunt the effects of climate change on the poorest and most vulnerable populations, the researchers say.


19 Sep 2014: Global Population on Track to
Reach 11 Billion by 2100, Researchers Say

A new analysis of United Nations global population data finds an 80-percent probability that the number of


Global population trend
people in the world, now 7.2 billion, will increase to between 9.6 and 12.3 billion in 2100. Published in the journal Science, the study counters the widely accepted projection that global population will peak at roughly 9 billion by 2050, then gradually decline. The new study instead finds a 70-percent likelihood that population will grow continuously throughout the century to reach 10.9 billion by 2100. Researchers attribute the higher projections, in part, to increasing fertility rates in sub-Saharan Africa, where population growth had been predicted to continue slowing. The Guardian notes that many widely cited global policy assessments, such as recommendations from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, assume a population peak by 2050.


03 Sep 2014: Mobile Phone Networks Can
Help Monitor Global Rainfall, Study Says

New research shows that mobile phone networks, which cover 90 percent of the world's population, can help track rainfall events — a task that has proven difficult for both advanced satellite systems and ground-level observation networks. By compiling data on signal disruptions from mobile phone networks in Burkina Faso in West Africa, a team of researchers was able to calculate with 95 percent accuracy both the location and volume of rain that fell, even during short-lived storms, according to a report in Geophysical Research Letters. Mobile phone companies maintain detailed records on signal disruptions, which can occur when water droplets block and deflect signals between antennae, to determine whether their networks are functioning properly. By tapping into those records, researchers could distill data on rainfall events at extremely fine spatial and temporal scales. As mobile phone networks expand across the globe, such data could be used to create highly accurate rainfall maps, researchers say, although gaining access to records could prove difficult.


24 Apr 2014: Browning of Congo Rainforest
Is Depicted in NASA Satellite Data

Persistent drought has taken a major toll on Africa's Congo rainforest, with large-scale browning intensifying and affecting a growing portion of the forest over the past decade, an analysis of NASA satellite data shows. A

Click to Enlarge
Browning of Congo rainforest

Browning of Congo rainforest
browning trend significantly dwarfed smaller areas of "greening" — a satellite-derived indicator of forest health — during April, May, and June each year from 2000 to 2012, according to research published in Nature. The browning of Congo's rainforest is significant, researchers said, because most climate models forecast that tropical forests may face increasing stress and rainfall shortages in a warmer and drier 21st century. A continued drying trend might alter the composition and structure of the Congo rainforest, affecting its biodiversity and carbon storage, according to the study. "Recent climate anomalies as a result of climate change and warming of the Atlantic Ocean have created severe droughts in the tropics, causing major impacts on forests," a NASA researcher said.


08 Apr 2014: 'Living Fences' Dramatically
Cut Livestock and Lion Killings in Tanzania

A novel, low-tech idea is helping Tanzania's lion population rebound: So-called "living fences" — which enclose livestock and are constructed of actively growing trees and chain-link fencing — have cut lion
A Masai villager installs a living fence.
attacks and retaliatory killings by more than 85 percent in the areas they've been installed, the Guardian reports. Traditionally, the Masai have built livestock enclosures out of thorny acacia trees, but those fences are relatively fragile. Chain-link fencing alone is more durable, but leopards and small lions can scale the fences, and hyenas can tunnel in below. By interweaving actively growing African myrrh trees with the chain link fencing, the Masai have created a barrier that lions can't climb over, and their root systems prevent predators from digging under the fence. Because livestock predation has been cut, communities that had been killing six or seven lions annually now kill, on average, less than one, leading to a rebound in lion populations.


07 Feb 2014: Chimpanzee 'Mega-Culture'
Documented in Remote Forest in Congo

Researchers have documented a huge population of chimpanzees in the Democratic Republic of Congo — a community of perhaps tens of thousands of individuals with its own unique customs and behaviors, the Guardian reports. The so-called "mega-culture," which spans 50,000 square kilometers of virtually untouched

Watch Video
Chimps in DRC

Chimps are thriving in a remote Congo forest.
forest, is thought to be the largest population of chimps in Africa and one of the last remaining continuous populations of chimpanzees in the wild, the scientists report in the journal Biological Conservation. The researchers first reported on this community in 2007, but their new survey includes detailed videos of the thriving population and its unique behaviors, which include feasting on leopards, using tools to harvest giant African snails and swarming insects, and building ground nests far more frequently than other chimps. While the find is heartening in terms of chimpanzee conservation, the researchers and wildlife advocates fear the population could be decimated by habitat loss and poachers, who stand to make huge profits in the bushmeat trade.


06 Feb 2014: Maps Show Tropical Corridors
Important to Wildlife As Climate Changes

A new set of maps highlights the importance of habitat corridors in helping wildlife deal with the effects of climate change and deforestation. The series of maps shows more than 16,000 habitat corridors— swaths of

Click to Enlarge
South America habitat corridors

Protected areas and corridors in South America
land that connect forests or protected areas and allow animals to move between them — in tropical regions of Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America. High-resolution data on biodiversity, endemism, and vegetation density allowed the researchers, led by Patrick Jantz of the Woods Hole Research Center, to determine which corridors are most important for maintaining biodiversity under changing climate conditions. The maps also highlight which corridors are most important for sequestering carbon and averting carbon emissions associated with deforestation. Researchers hope the findings will help guide wildlife protection plans and serve as a framework prioritizing the conservation of habitat corridors.


17 Jan 2014: More Than 1,000 Rhinos
Poached in 2013, South African Officials Say

More than 1,000 rhinos were illegally killed in South Africa last year, a record total and an increase of more than 50 percent from 2012, South African officials say. South Africa is home to nearly all of the
Black rhino
Adam Welz
world's 20,000 rhinos, which are targeted by poachers because their horns are highly valued and believed to contain medicinal properties. Although those claims are scientifically unfounded, demand from increasingly wealthy consumers in China and Vietnam has driven the price of rhino horns to over $65,000 per kilogram — more valuable than gold, platinum, or cocaine. South Africa has tried to stem the crisis by training park rangers to use arms, drones, and helicopters, but those anti-poaching efforts have shown limited success. Rhino poachings in 2012 also increased by 50 percent over 2011 totals, and 37 have been poached so far in 2014, officials report. Most of the killings are taking place in South Africa's Kruger National Park, where 606 rhinos were killed last year and 425 in 2012.


15 Jan 2014: West African Lions Are
Critically Close to Extinction, Study Says

West African lions are close to extinction, and vulnerable populations could be wiped out in the next five to 10 years, according to new research led by the wild cat conservation group Panthera. West African lions, which are genetically distinct from other African lions, once numbered in the tens of thousands. Now the
West African lion
Philipp Henschel/Panthera
Male West African lion
population has been reduced to around 400 individuals spread across 17 countries, largely due to habitat loss, a shortage of prey, and poaching, according to the study published in PLOS ONE. Of the remaining lions, only about 250 are mature enough to reproduce, but in many cases those individuals are spread too far apart to breed. West African lions are now present in only 1.1 percent of their original habitat and should be considered "critically endangered," according to the study. Running low on habitat and prey, the lions sometimes kill livestock. Villagers then kill the lions in revenge. "It's become very complicated for this carnivore at the top of the food chain to find enough space and food to survive," one scientist told Reuters.


02 Dec 2013: Poachers Killed 22,000
Elephants in Africa Last Year, Group Says

Poachers slaughtered 22,000 elephants in 27 African countries last year, according to a new report. Officials with The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and two conservation groups said that 15,000 elephant
Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay
A herd in Namibia
deaths from poaching were officially reported in Africa and that another 7,000 deaths went unreported. Although that number is a slight decrease from the 2011 estimate of 25,000 poaching deaths, CITES officials warn that poaching rates are far too high and could soon lead to local extinctions. Africa, which is currently home to roughly 500,000 elephants, could lose a fifth of its elephant population over the next 10 years, CITES says. "The estimated poaching rate of 7.4 percent in 2012 remains at an unsustainably high level, as it exceeds natural population growth rates (usually no more than 5 percent)," the report says.


14 Nov 2013: U.S. Crushes Six Tons
Of Illegally Trafficked Elephant Ivory

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) destroyed six tons of elephant ivory today that field agents seized over the past 25 years. The U.S. Ivory Crush event, which took place in Denver, Colorado, marked the first time the FWS has destroyed large quantities of ivory. The move was an attempt to send a clear message that the U.S. will not tolerate illegal ivory trafficking and the toll it's taking on elephant populations in Africa and Asia, the FWS said. Seized ivory is usually kept as evidence for prosecuting traffickers, then later used for education and training, but the FWS had accumulated far more ivory than it needs. The ivory that was crushed included full tusks, carved tusks, jewelry, carvings, and other objects, and came from at least 2,000 poached elephants, the FWS estimates.


16 Oct 2013: Climate-Driven Disasters To Keep
Impoverished Populations Poor, Study Says

Extreme weather events driven by climate change will exacerbate poverty in regions where people are already among the world's poorest, according to a study by the U.K.'s Overseas Development Institute. Where disasters
Flooding in Mozambique
Floods in Mozambique
such as drought are common, those events are the leading cause of poverty, the authors say, rather than poor health or societal factors. Across the globe, up to 325 million people will be living in countries that face natural hazard risks by 2030, the report says; in sub-Saharan Africa alone, 118 million people in poverty will face extreme events. To brace against the effects of disasters, aid money should be spent on reducing those risks, rather than only on humanitarian relief after an extreme event, the authors argue. Currently, money tends to flow to a region after a disaster instead of before, when it could be used for prevention. "If the international community are serious about ending extreme poverty, they need to get serious about reducing disaster risk for the poorest people," the institute's Tom Mitchell told the BBC.


01 Oct 2013: Small Rainforest Predators
Are Photographed and Studied in Gabon

The west African country of Gabon is known for its gorillas, elephants, and other large animal species, but a recent study has shed light on little-known rainforest predators that could face increasing pressure from the

View Gallery
African civet

Laila Bahaa-el-din
African civet
bushmeat trade. Using camera traps, bushmeat surveys, and DNA analyses, researchers from Panthera, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and other groups completed the first-ever survey of 12 small carnivore species throughout the country. The study found two species — the common slender mongoose and the Cameroon cusimanse — that hadn't been found in Gabon before, and it documented an extended range for the Egyptian mongoose. “It appears that these species are widespread and not currently threatened, but the proximity of many small carnivores to human settlements and the growing bushmeat trade could potentially impact these populations," said Wildlife Conservation Society researcher Fiona Maisels, who co-authored the study. "These new findings will help inform future management."


26 Sep 2013: Major Initiative Announced
To Help Curb Elephant Poaching in Africa

The Clinton Global Initiative and 16 conservation organizations have announced that they are investing $80 million over three years to stem the epidemic of elephant poaching in Africa, which has surged recently due to increasing demand for ivory in Asia. The Partnership to Save Africa's Elephants, which includes the governments of seven African nations, will fund programs that scale up anti-poaching enforcement, combat trafficking at ports and markets with more enforcement and harsher penalties, and curb the demand for illegal ivory with ad campaigns aimed at consumers in China, Vietnam, and other nations. "We cannot hope to reverse the dramatic decline in elephant populations without addressing all three parts of the problem," said Patrick Bergin, CEO of the African Wildlife Foundation. 


25 Sep 2013: More Than 80 Elephants Dead
From Cyanide Poisoning in Zimbabwe Park

Poachers poisoned watering holes with cyanide in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, killing 81 elephants in the latest wave of slayings to supply the trade in illegal ivory. The cyanide, poured into remote watering
Hwange National Park
Hwange National Park
holes in the park, also killed smaller animals and vultures that ate the poisoned carcasses. Park rangers arrested nine alleged poachers after following them to a cache of ivory tusks hidden in the park. The elephant death toll of 81 includes 41 carcasses found earlier this month following another cyanide poisoning incident in Hwange park. Zimbabwe's new environment minister, Saviour Kasukuwere, has pledged to make jail penalties for poachers harsher. Elephant and rhino poaching in Africa has accelerated in recent years due to increasing Asian demand for ivory and rhino horn, which is used in traditional medicines, even though it has no proven medicinal properties. Officials estimate tens of thousands of elephants are being slaughtered each year in the worst wave of poaching in decades.


25 Jul 2013: Mapping of Oil Palm Genome
Could Boost Productivity of Key Crop

Scientists say they have identified the gene responsible for the yield of oil palm crops, a discovery that could boost the productivity of the world’s top source of

Click to enlarge
Malaysian Palm Oil Board

Malaysian Palm Oil Board
Two varieties of palm oil fruit.
vegetable oil and help reduce the size of oil palm plantations in the world’s tropical regions. Writing in the journal Nature, Malaysian and U.S. researchers describe the mapping of the genome of the oil palm, whose products are used in everything from food to cosmetics to biofuels. According to the scientists, the so-called “shell gene” controls “how the thickness of its shell correlates to fruit size and oil yield.” The fruit of the African palm oil tree comes in three varieties: a thick-shelled dura, a shell-less pisifera, and a thin-shelled tenera, which produces a greater oil yield. According to scientists, the shell gene plays a key role in a mutation that produces the more commercially productive tenera variety.


26 Jun 2013: Exposure to Lead Costs
Developing Nations $1 Trillion Annually

The exposure of children to toxic lead, and the subsequent declines in IQ and earning potential, costs the developing world nearly $1 trillion annually, according to a new report. Based on the average lead levels in children under the age of 5, researchers from New York University found that Africa suffers the greatest costs from lead exposure, losing an estimated $137.7 billion annually, or about 4 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP). In Latin America, the costs are about $142.3 billion, the study found, while in Asian nations the costs are about $699.9 billion. By comparison, the annual costs in the U.S. and Europe, where exposure to lead has decreased significantly in recent decades, are about $50 billion and $55 billion, respectively. The report said lead consumption has increased worldwide since the early 1970s, largely because of rising demand for lead batteries. The study was published in Environmental Health Perspectives.


20 Jun 2013: Global Reports Underline
Threats to Planet’s Bird Species

New global research underlines the rising threats facing the world’s bird species, with three reports providing evidence that climate change, overfishing, and unsustainable agriculture are taking a heavy toll on
Maine puffins
Puffins along the Maine coast.
avian populations worldwide. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) reports that numbers of some migratory bird populations in Maine — including Arctic terns and puffins — have plummeted in recent years because their food supplies are disappearing as a result of commercial fishing and the shifting of fish to cooler waters, which is making it more difficult for some birds to feed their young. In a separate study, scientists predict that rising sea levels will devastate habitat for some migratory shore birds in the coming decades. Higher sea levels, the study predicts, will flood 23 percent to 40 percent of the intertidal habitats for several shorebird species, triggering population declines of as much as 70 percent. Overall, one in eight bird species globally is at risk of extinction, according to a new report by BirdLife International.


13 Jun 2013: Population Could Be 11 Billion
By End of the Century, UN Report Says

A new United Nations report projects that the world population could reach nearly 11 billion by 2100, about 8 percent more than predicted just two years ago. The projected increase largely stems from the fact that the fertility rate in Africa has declined more slowly than expected, with demographers now forecasting that the number of people on the continent could nearly quadruple this century, from from about 1.1 billion today to about 4.2 billion. “The fertility decline in Africa has slowed down or stalled to a larger extent than we previously predicted, and as a result the African population will go up,” said Adrian Raftery, a professor of statistics and sociology at the University of Washington, who helped develop the statistical method used in the report. The total world population passed 7 billion in 2011. According to the new report, 8 of the top 10 increases in national populations by 2100 will occur in Africa, led by Nigeria, where the number of people is expected to jump from 184 million to 914 million.


28 May 2013: Electricity Availability Growth
Must Double to Achieve Global Access

The rate of expansion of access to electricity will have to double over the next 17 years if the world's population is to achieve 100 percent access to modern energy, a new report says. While about 1.7 billion people became connected to electricity sources worldwide between 1990 and 2010, that increase barely outpaced population growth during that period, according to Sustainable Energy for All, a group lead by the World Bank and the United Nations. More than 1.2 billion people still do not have access to electricity, and 2.8 billion still rely on burning wood or other biomass for household fuel, a source of pollution that causes about 4 million premature deaths annually. Achieving universal access to modern energy will require investments of $45 billion annually, which is five times the current levels. If combined with an expansion of renewable energy sources and improved efficiencies, however, achieving this growth in energy access would increase CO2 emissions by less than 1 percent, the report says.


Interview: For Solar Sisters,
Off-Grid Electricity is Power

For Katherine Lucey, the lack of electricity in many parts of the developing world is not just an economic issue, it is a gender issue. A former investment banker,
Solar Sister Africa
Solar Sister
Mother in Uganda with a solar lamp.
Lucey is the founder and CEO of Solar Sister, a nonprofit that uses a market-based approach to provide solar power to communities in sub-Saharan Africa through a network of women entrepreneurs. Access to energy is critical to alleviating poverty, and women must be at the heart of any solution, says Lacey, since they are the family’s “energy managers,” responsible for cooking and heating needs. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Lucey explains how Solar Sister’s operations rely on selling inexpensive solar energy systems to households to power lamps and recharge cell phones. Since 2010, Solar Sister has created a network of 401 businesswomen in three countries that has provided electricity to 54,000 people. Lucey says the model can be rapidly expanded and can transform lives. “We’ve got to find a way to tap into market resources and let people in their own communities solve their own problems," she says.
Read the interview


25 Apr 2013: Metal Demand Could Increase
Nine-Fold as Developing Economies Grow

Global demand for metals could increase nine-fold in the coming years as the world’s developing economies continue to grow, a trend that could have profound negative environmental impacts, a new UN report says. As populations in these countries continue to adopt modern technologies, and nations increasingly construct metal-intensive renewable energy projects, the need for raw metal materials will likely be three to nine times larger than the current global demand, said Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). While the current demand is typically met by mining for more metals, large-scale mining operations can have adverse environmental consequences, and the supply of some rare earth metals is running low. Saying that there is an urgent need for a more sophisticated approach to recycling the planet's increasingly sophisticated products, the UN suggested that mining companies be enlisted to help sort out valuable metals when the products reach the end of their usefulness.


10 Apr 2013: New Satellite-Based System Will
Track Illegal Deforestation in Real Time

A coalition of organizations has unveiled a digital tool its developers say will help governments, environmental groups, and local communities monitor illegal logging in the world’s forest regions in close to real time. Using satellite technology, data sharing, and a global network of local contributors, the so-called Global Forest Watch 2.0 system will enable users to track forest loss that has occurred within the last 30 days and allow local forest managers to upload geo-referenced photographs to support data on deforestation. Developed by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and other contributors — including Google, the University of Maryland, and the United Nations Environment Program — the technology was unveiled this week at a UN forum on forests and will be available next month. WRI hopes the system will allow government leaders and companies to make more timely forest management decisions.


05 Apr 2013: South Africa Game Reserve
Poisons Rhino Horns to Halt Poachers

Officials at a private game reserve in South Africa say they have injected into the horns of more than 100 rhinos a parasiticide that will make humans sick if they ingest the horns. As the rhinos’ death toll continues to escalate in South Africa, where nearly 700 animals were
Injured Rhino in South Africa
Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images
Injured rhino in South Africa
poached last year to supply a growing black market for their horns, officials say bold action was necessary. “Despite all the interventions by police, the body count has continued to climb,” Andrew Parker, chief executive of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin Association, a group of private landowners, told the Guardian. “Everything we’ve tried has not been working and for poachers it has become a low-risk, high-reward ratio.” The group is trying to increase that risk by injecting a mix of parasiticides and pink dye into the horns of tranquilized rhinos. The poison is not lethal to humans, Parker said, but anyone who consumes it will be extremely ill. Demand for rhino horns in Southeast Asia, where the horns are believed to have healing powers, has triggered a surge in the killing of rhinos.


05 Mar 2013: African Forest Elephant
Populations Fell 62 Percent in a Decade

Populations of forest elephants in central Africa plummeted by more than 60 percent from 2002 to 2011, with dwindling habitat and an acceleration in poaching driving the elephants toward extinction, according to a

View gallery
African Forest Elephant

Elizabeth M. Rogers
A forest elephant in Gabon
new study. An international team of 60 scientists found that while elephants historically ranged across a 772,000-square-mile region in Cameroon, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and the Republic of Congo, they now exist in just 25 percent of that area, said John Hart, scientific director for the Lukuru Foundation and co-author of the study published in the journal PLoS ONE. The decade-long survey, which involved the work of many local conservation staff members who walked more than 8,000 miles conducting censuses, is the largest ever conducted on forest elephants. According to the survey, the remaining 100,000 forest elephants are increasingly scarce in regions with high human populations, heavy poaching, and weak governance.


06 Feb 2013: More than 11,000 Elephants
Killed In Gabon Park Since 2004, Study Says

Poachers have slaughtered more than 11,000 elephants in Gabon’s Minkebe National Park rainforest since 2004, according to a new study by Gabon’s government and two leading conservation groups. The study said that in the past 9 years, two-thirds of the forest elephants in Minkebe — about 11,100 animals — have been killed by poachers for their tusks. The study comes as tens of thousands of African elephants are being killed annually to feed a growing demand for ivory jewelry and ornamental items in a fast-growing Asian economy. Gabon said that many of the poachers are infiltrating Minkebe park from Cameroon and that the forest elephants’ harder and straighter tusks are coveted by poachers and dealers.


18 Jan 2013: In Kenya Reserves, Poaching
Is Leading Cause of Death for Elephants

A 14-year study of elephants in northern Kenya has found that the animals are now more likely to die at the hands of human poachers than of natural causes. When researchers began tracking 934 individual elephants at
Elephant in Kenya
TRAFFIC/Martin Harvey/WWF-Canon
African savanna elephant
two adjacent reserves, Samburu and Buffalo Springs, in 1997, elephant populations were growing and illegal killing was rare, with perhaps one animal killed per year, according to George Wittemyer, a Colorado State University wildlife biologist and lead author of the study published in PLoS ONE. But that started to change over the last decade, particularly for older elephants, which have larger tusks. In 2000, there were 38 male elephants over the age of 30 in their study population; by 2011, the number had dropped to 12. By that time, 56 percent of all elephants found dead had been poached. The long-term slaughter also altered the demographics of the population. While males accounted for 42 percent of the population in 1997, their numbers dropped to 32 percent by 2011. Ten of the family groups being tracked effectively “disappeared.”




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