Colorado State University elephant researcher George Wittemyer said Thursday an update of his groundbreaking research on poaching shows that elephants are still being killed at a high rate.
But Wittemyer, who testified at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee subcommittee hearing on wildlife poaching, said there is also some good news in the grim statistics.
First, the rate of poaching he found for 2013 and 2014 — 6 percent to 7 percent of the elephant population per year — is not as high as what he found for 2011 and 2012.
Wittemyer, professor in the CSU Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, co-authored a study published last year that found poachers had killed more than 100,000 elephants in Africa in the three-year period of 2010-2012.
The study received wide attention because it was the most precise estimate ever of the extent of elephant poaching.
Wittemyer, who is also chairman of the scientific board for Save the Elephants, said that group has had success reducing the rate of elephant poaching in northern Kenya. And he said the knowledge of the precise nature of the poaching problem gained from his research and that of others has helped to address the problem and measure success.
Wittemyer said his recent data suggest that tens of thousands of elephants are still being poached in Africa each year. The elephants are killed so their ivory can be harvested.
Especially hard hit has been Tanzania, with a loss of 50,000 elephants since 2009, or 60 percent of the population.
Elements of successful efforts to reduce poaching include engaging the community, providing incentives that fit the needs of the community, and effective security and policing.
“There is not a single prescription that can solve the issue of illegal wildlife trade in Africa,” he said.
He praised the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service elephant conservation fund, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Obama administration’s 2013 White House Executive Order on Wildlife Trafficking.
“The U.S. has played a profound role in conserving African elephants and continues to be a global leader in conservation efforts,” Wittemyer said.
Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of wildlife conservation for the World Wildlife Fund, testified the illegal wildlife trade is valued at more than $10 billion a year, placing it alongside counterfeiting and illegal drug trafficking as among the most lucrative criminal enterprises.
And Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said the U.S. is the second largest market for illegal wildlife products.
“This is not just a problem for African nations, it’s also an American problem,” Markey said.