Magazine article Science News

African Elephants: A Dying Way of Life

Magazine article Science News

African Elephants: A Dying Way of Life

Article excerpt

African elephants: A dying way of life

Some 130,000 elephants lived in Kenya in 1973; fewer than 20,000 remain today. Tanzania's Lake Manyara National Park has lost half its elephant population in the last two years.

With ivory prices of soaring, poachers are killing elephants over much of Africa at a record rate. In the latest compilation of African elephant censuses, researchers counted fewer than 750,000 elephants - down from the 1.3 million estimated in 1979 when the last African elephant survey was compiled.

"Although scientists and field workers had long been aware of increased poaching in their immediate areas, it wasn't until the figures for the entire continent were pulled together that anyone realized the magnitude of the devastation," Diana E. McMeekin of the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) in Washington, D.C., told reporters at a press conference last week.

This year, based on a worldwide demand of 800 tons a year for ivory, the AWF expects that another 70,000 elephants will be killed for their tusks and an additional 10,000 young elephants will perish because their mothers died.

But as alarming as conservationists find these numbers, they are even more concerned about which elephants are being killed. Having exhausted the supply of mature males, which have the largest tusks, poachers are now killing younger males, breeding-age females and especially the matriarchs that lead the elephant families. Recent surveys in some parts of Africa found no elephants older than 30 (elephants can live to be 60 years old), and some researchers have reported seeing small, frightened herds composed almost entirely of calves. …

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