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.”