Bad News on Poaching Must Strengthen Our Resolve to Protect African Elephants


Dan Ashe, Director's Corner, U.S. Fish and Wildlife

Date Published
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A scientific study released recently confirms our worst fears – poachers slaughtered about 100,000 elephants in Africa between 2010 and 2012. This horrific and unsustainable carnage amounts to nearly 7 percent of the population per year – a level that exceeds the natural growth rate of elephant populations.
Last week we unveiled a public service campaign developed with National Geographic designed to educate consumers here and abroad about the devastating impact of the illegal ivory trade on elephants. It will be showing on a giant electronic billboard in New York City’s Times Square during September, sending the message to new audiences in the epicenter of U.S. illegal ivory trade on the East Coast.
Over the past five years, elephant numbers have begun to decline at more than 75 percent of the sites where they still occur.
These populations are in a death spiral. Unless we reverse these appalling trends, most, if not all elephants may vanish from the wild in Africa within a decade.
The real tragedy is that this poaching epidemic is not driven by a need for basic human requirement – food, water, shelter. Instead, African elephants are being massacred in the name of greed and vanity – the desire to have an ivory trinket, no matter the cost.
In response, the United States, led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has developed a multi-prong strategy to work with the international community to fight illegal wildlife trafficking in elephant ivory and other products.
This strategy builds on decades of conservation work on the ground in Africa that began in the 1970s, when international trade restrictions were first implemented to protect elephants. In 1989, we expanded our efforts to support elephant conservation when the African Elephant Conservation Act was passed and the African Elephant Conservation Fund established. 
Last year, we crushed six tons of seized illegal ivory to let the world know that the United States will not allow the illegal products of ivory trafficking and poaching to reach the market. And we tightened regulations to limit the amount of illegal ivory coming into and being funneled through the United States.
We’re continuing to help build the capacity and training of law enforcement and game management agencies in African countries to protect their elephant populations and crack down on smuggling rings.
But law enforcement can only take us so far. We can’t ensure the future of elephants unless we can reduce demand for ivory where it is popular.
That’s why this new campaign is so critical. It’s not just about cracking down on criminal gangs of poachers in Africa. It’s about helping people understand that the choices they make as consumers have a direct impact on the demand for ivory.
We’re working in Asia and other large ivory consuming areas to address consumer demand. And the United States is one of the world’s largest markets for these products.
Our window of opportunity to save this species is rapidly closing. But there is still time to act.
We all have a role to play. I hope you’ll check out this campaign and raise your voice for elephants.