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The Elephants

On The Brink Of Extinction

       Since its founding, WWF has considered conservation of the African elephant one of its highest priorities. Through field projects and policy work, the World Wildlife Fund’s strategy has focused on training African conservation professionals, strengthening protected areas, supporting anti-poaching activities, and developing conservation strategies that produce direct economic benefits for local people, help control the ivory trade, and build public awareness of elephants’ critical role in ecological conservation.


elephants.jpg (15383 bytes)        The 1989 elephant ivory ban adopted by parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) helped to reduce greatly the illegal trade in ivory, and led recently to increases in many elephant populations. Today, although estimates vary because of a lack of precise data on the status of forest elephants in central Africa, the total elephant population is probably between 500,000 and 600,000. However, the problem of poaching remains.

       In the 1970s and 80s, as many as half of Africa’s estimated 1.3 million elephants were killed because poaching for the ivory trade overwhelmed attempts to control it by parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Widely considered one of the most significant wildlife conservation challenges of the last three decades, this crisis prompted the October 1989 vote by CITES parties to ban all commercial international trade in elephant ivory and other products. Within Africa, stocks of ivory acquired legally and confiscated from poachers are growing and are today estimated to total more than 500 metric tons. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) ranks the African elephant as endangered overall, and scientists view its prospects for long-term survival as uncertain in many areas.

       According to many African wildlife officials, there are two keys to addressing the elephant conservation dilemma: developing national land-use strategies that minimize the occurrence of elephant-people conflicts (which may imply the total exclusion of either people or elephants from certain areas) and ensuring that, in areas where contact cannot be minimized, there are tangible benefits to people of having elephants in their midst. People must value living with elephants. Benefits can come in the form of tourism revenues, trophy hunting fees, or sales of elephant products from problem elephants that have been killed. When elephants are regarded solely as a liability, the simple answer is destruction --as has been the case with coyotes and wolves in the American West. When elephants’ value--particularly in economic terms--makes people regard them as assets, ways will be found to ensure their conservation.