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The African elephant will disappear within two decades if urgent action is not taken to save one of the world’s most iconic animal species, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has warned in a new campaign fundraiser.
The population of these elephants—the largest animal currently walking the earth—has declined by 70 percent in the last 40 years, in large part because of the illegal ivory trade, which is the biggest driver of elephant poaching, according to the non-profit.
In fact, 20,000 elephants are killed every year to feed this trade—which is equivalent to one death every 26 minutes.
Once an elephant is killed, poachers harvest the ivory to meet a growing demand for products made from this material. Ivory can be turned into ornaments and decorations, as well as being used in traditional Asian medicine for its purported therapeutic value. Elephants are also sometimes killed to provide a source of meat.
This poaching takes place despite a global ban on ivory sales under the CITES multilateral treaty (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) which was introduced in 1990. Above the poachers are powerful organized criminal networks which commonly engage in corruption, money laundering and assassinations.
Part of the issue in policing the problem is that the governments of nations where Africans elephants live often lack sufficient resources to protect and monitor elephant herds, which often reside in remote and inaccessible habitats. When the animals are killed, they often suffer a brutal death.
“Poachers generally use Kalashnikovs or poisoned arrows,” WWF Coordinator for West Africa, Pauwel De Wachter, said in a statement. “These weapons hurt the animal but do not kill them immediately. Once the elephant is on the ground, the poachers cut his tendons to immobilize it, condemning them to a painful death. So that the elephant empties more quickly of his blood, they cut his trunk.”
African elephants are found in 37 countries across the continent and are categorized as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) with a remaining population of around 415,000 in the wild, according to WWF.
These animals play a crucial role in the ecosystem, helping to maintain healthy habitats for many other species. This is because African elephants help to disperse seeds.
The population of African elephants—which are split into two subspecies—once numbered between three and five million during the last century. However, this figure has fallen dramatically as a result of poaching and other factors, such as habitat fragmentation or loss.