Saving the African Elephant

The Futurist, September-October 1989 | Go to article overview

Saving the African Elephant


Saving the African Elephant

The future of the African elephant is in danger. Africa's elephant population is rapidly declining and, at the same time, its natural habitat is being threatened by growing human populations.

Continent-wide, there are fewer than 700,000 African elephants -- less than half as many as a decade ago -- and the number soon could drop below half a million, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Even more worrisome is the threat to elephant populations in certain countries. For example, the elephant population in Kenya and Uganda has declined by 85% since 1973.

Poaching and illegal ivory trading, fueled by the international demand for ivory from elephant tusks, are the most important short-term causes of the elephants' decline in numbers. But the occupation or destruction of elephants' natural habitats by rapidly growing human populations poses a further threat to elephant populations, as do droughts, hunting of elephants for meat or trophies, and culling operations to keep down the number of elephants in agricultural areas.

Elephant poaching has proven difficult to control primarily because it is so profitable. Ivory can be sold for up to $100 a pound in nations such as Japan, and although poachers receive far less than the market price, they often can get a few hundred dollars for the tusks of a single elephant -- an amount that equals the annual per capita income in many African countries. Older elephants have larger tusks, and many of them have already been slaughtered by poachers. "Whole generations of older elephants may have been completely wiped out, and the poachers are killing what's left: the infant elephants," notes U. …

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