There is yet another problem helping to fuel the decline of megafauna, according to George Wittemyer, an associate professor in the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology at Colorado State University and chairman of the scientific board for Save the Elephants.
In a paper recently published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, Wittemyer and his team detailed the strikingly slow reproductive rates of forest elephants. This, he told Discovery News, "places them among the slowest reproducing mammals on the planet."
He added, "This information elevates concerns regarding the conservation status of forest elephants, which have been the focus of the most intensive poaching over the past two decades. These data indicate that forest elephants are unlikely to return to pre-poaching numbers for nearly a century."
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Deutsch told Discovery News that Africa is now losing 25,000–35,000 elephants per year, with losses in Ruaha, Tanzania; Niassa, Mozambique; and throughout southeast Angola being particularly high. Rhinos, which also have very slow reproduction rates, are also in a severe population decline. Some rhino subspecies, such as the Northern white rhino, are now represented by less than 5 individuals. Armed guards attempt to protect them 24/7 from poachers.
To combat the loss of elephants, rhinos and other targets of poachers, Deutsch said three steps must be taken immediately, and the general public can help.
First, in order to stop poachers currently in the field, collaborative efforts involving governments, non-profits (NGOs), wildlife experts and empowered citizens must strengthen. He asks that concerned individuals consider supporting NGOs "that are directly engaged in park protection, such as African Parks Network, Wildlife Conservation Society and Frankfurt Zoological Society."
Second, he said that we need to stop the trafficking of endangered animals.
"Readers should urge elected officials, in the United States and abroad, to treat wildlife trafficking as a serious international crime," he said.
Finally, governments must be pressured to close domestic ivory markets that are devastating rhino and elephant populations. To do this, Deutsch said national representatives should be urged to press the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to block any future international ivory sales.
Time is of the essence, though, given how fast elephants and other megafauna are disappearing.
"If you cut enough strands from a web, eventually it collapses, and we're cutting fast," Deutsch said. "We can't afford to just wait and see and hope for the best, because the consequences won't be good."