More than 100,000 Elephants Killed in 3 Years
Vassil, Wikimedia Commons
The co-host of a hunting show on the Outdoor Channel recently spent $350,000 for the chance to hunt an endangered black rhinoceros in southern Africa. Corey Knowlton won the Dallas Safari Club's auction for a permit to hunt the rhino in Namibia. Knowlton says he and his family have received death threats after his name was made public through social media. "As much as I would love them all to live forever, they are going to die," Knowltontold CNN
. "The older males are killing each other, and something has to be done about it."
Nearly any animal can be legally killed in many parts of Africa, so long as the hunter pays the right amount of money. For rare and endangered species, the cost can escalate to many thousands of U.S. dollars.
"National parks are obviously trying to make money," Johnny Rodrigues, Chairman for Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told Discovery News. "The hunters have to pay the parks if they want to shoot the animals."
It can be a Catch-22, since the parks often struggle to pay their staff, which include those who work to care for and protect the animals. The high price tag of a permit may serve as a deterrent, but it also reflects how much poachers can earn without even benefiting the parks.[/br
Patrick Giraud, Wikimedia Commons
The payment needed to legally shoot an elephant drops to $50,000 in Zimbabwe, with a further loss of $10,000 if the elephant has no tusks. "The reason rhinos are more valuable than elephants is because the horn is so valuable and in such high demand by the Chinese," Rodrigues said.
Patrick Giraud, Wikimedia Commons
$20,000 can allow hunters with appropriate permits to kill several rare animals in many parts of Africa. Leopards are on that list, even though The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists them as "threatened."
Kevin Pluck, Wikimedia Commons
The price tag on lions is also $20,000. In terms of what happens to the dead animals, "As far as I know," Rodrigues said, "once the animals are hunted, they are exported to the hunter's home country." Upon arrival, the hunter may preserve the animal's dead body and put it on display.
The cost to legally hunt a cheetah in Zimbabwe is $20,000. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists them as "vulnerable," but further mentions that "the known cheetah population is approximately 7,500-10,000 adult animals." In 1975, the number of cheetahs in Africa was estimated at 15,000, revealing that this species has significantly declined in only three generations.
Majestic Roan antelopes also can be hunted for $20,000 in parts of Africa. While its population is more numerous than wild cats, this species has been eliminated from large parts of its former range, primarily due to poaching and habitat loss.
Paul Maritz, Wikimedia Commons
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reports that sable antelopes possess "high value as a trophy animal."
Ikiwaner, Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes the cost to hunt an animal differs if the target is male or female. That is the case for African buffalos, since males have larger horns than females do. The horn size difference costs a hunter an extra two grand to shoot a male African buffalo.
Roland H., Wikimedia Commons
A hunter must pay $5,000 to legally shoot a giraffe in Zimbabwe. The IUCN Red List reports that "a recent preliminary population estimate suggests a decline in the total population has taken place." While giraffes are currently listed as being animals of "least concern," that classification might soon change if the estimate is substantiated.
Valdiney Pimenta, Wikimedia Commons
On the less expensive side of the scale are flamingos, which cost only $100 to legally hunt in Zimbabwe. The value of this and the other animals to conservationists and other animal lovers comes without a price tag, however. To them, the animals are priceless. Nevertheless, by putting a price on the heads of animals, some national parks in Africa earn money that helps to fuel their operations. The biggest problem is poachers, who receive relatively light sentences for their crimes.
Rodrigues explained, "The only thing a poacher would get if they trapped these animals is a jail sentence if they are caught."
The insatiable demand for ivory is causing a dramatic decline in the number of African elephants. Poachers are hunting the animal faster than it can reproduce, with deaths affecting more than half of elephant families in the Samburu National Reserve in Kenya, a new study finds.
In 2011, the worst African elephant poaching year on record since 1998, poachers killed an estimated 40,000 elephants, or about 8 percent of the elephant population in Africa. In the absence of poaching, African elephant populations grow about 4.2 percent each year, the researchers found based on detailed records from Samburu.
African Elephants are an intelligent species; individuals cooperate with one another and console one another in times of distress, but people unfortunately like their ivory tusks, said the study's lead researcher, George Wittemyer, an assistant professor of fish, wildlife and conservation biology at Colorado State University.
Wittemyer has studied African elephants in Kenya for the past 17 years, monitoring their complex social lives. In 2009, a drought led to the deaths of about 12 percent of elephants in Kenya. The animals' numbers dropped further when a wave of poaching, which has been ongoing since that year, upset the population. [Elephant Images: The Biggest Beasts on Land]
"Sadly, in 2009, we had a terrible drought, and we started seeing a lot of illegal killing of elephants as well as natural deaths," Wittemyer told Live Science. "We've been struggling to respond. We've been trying to find solutions to dampen the illegal killing."
His team used data on natural deaths versus poaching deaths in the Samburu National Reserve in Kenya, and then applied these numbers to a continent-wide database called MIKE, or Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants. Started in 2002, MIKE is maintained by communities across Africa that report when, where and how elephants die.
The researchers created two computer models: one that looked at 12 MIKE sites with the best carcass data, and a second that examined all 306 sites, even those with less information about elephant deaths. The researchers did not include areas in West Africa, which is home to about 2 percent of the African elephant population, because data there are sparse, Wittemyer said.
In the past 10 years, elephant numbers at the 12 sites have decreased by 7 percent, which takes into account that elephant numbers were mostly increasing until 2009. Elephants in central Africa decreased by more than 60 percent in the past 10 years, according to an analysis of three locations in the 12-site model. Poaching is so widespread that 75 percent of elephant populations across the continent have been declining since 2009, with only 25 percent showing stable or increasing numbers, Wittemyer said.
"Alarming increases in illegal killing for ivory are driving African elephants rapidly into extinction," said Peter Leimgruber, a conservation biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, who was not involved in the study.
Poaching rates for ivory are unsustainable and exceed the natural growth rate of wild elephants, Leimgruber said. "This means that elephant populations currently decline by nearly 60 to 70 percent every 10 years, making it likely for the species to go extinct in the near future if poaching and the illegal ivory trade are not stopped," he said.
Much of the ivory demand comes from China and Southeast Asia. Many people see ivory as a status symbol and an artistic investment, especially for religious renditions, whereas others turn to ivory for mass-consumption products, such as bracelets and chopsticks, Wittemyer said.
A similar ivory boom in the late 1970s and 1980s tapered out when 115 countries opted to ban the international trade of ivory in 1989. Today, researchers hope that conservation organizations, as well as high-profile advocates such as Chinese basketball player Yao Ming, will help to stem the ivory demand.
Poachers killed an average of 33,630 elephants every year from 2010 to 2012, resulting in more than 100,000 deaths across the continent, the study found. Illegal killings across Africa decreased somewhat in 2010, but they were still higher than pre-2009 levels, the researchers reported. As more elephants are poached, the number of governmental seizures of illegal ivory increase, and the black market price of ivory goes up.
"The spike in the upward trends does appear to have leveled off, but at unsustainably high levels," John E. Scanlon, secretary general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, who was not involved in the study, told Live Science. "We know what needs to be done, and we must enhance our efforts in the front lines to address supply and demand across source, transit and destination countries."
The study was published today (Aug. 18) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Original article on Live Science.
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