JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A 14-year study of a nearly 1,000 elephants in Kenya shows an alarming death rate among older males — those with large, valuable tusks — and an acceleration in poaching deaths, the group Save The Elephants said Thursday.
The study said that in 2000 the region of Samburu had 38 known elephant males over 30 years of age. But 2011 only five of those original 38 were still alive. Almost half of the known females over 30 years also died during this period, at least half from illegal killings, the study found.
Targeted poaching deaths of Africa's elephants have accelerated in the last several years. The killings are driven by the rising price of ivory as demand increases across Asia — and especially in China — for the rare natural resource.
Animal experts worry that unless China's increasingly wealthy middle class can be educated about how elephants must be killed in order to provide the ivory used to make small, coveted trinkets, the world's elephant population will be in danger of being hunted to extinction.
"Ivory demand and prices have reached a point at which poachers are willing to target well-protected, closely monitored populations," said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save The Elephants, in a statement to release the report. "This is now being replicated in other protected areas across Africa."
The new study, published Wednesday in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed online scientific journal, found that the elephants of Samburu appeared to recognize the threat they faced and increased their reproductive rate.