We will not wait for an exact number of elephants killed each year to continue our fight

A Kenya Wildlife Service ranger gazes down upon the remains of a poached elephant in the Tsavo ecosystem. Elephants are in crisis and need our help now.

We shall not be troubled by the inherent unknowns in quantifying poaching and exact numbers of elephants killed.

Rather we will be motivated by what is known.

More than 20,000 elephants were poached across Africa in 2013, according to a report recently released by the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Sure, that is down slightly from CITES’ counts from years past, when estimates had been anywhere from 22,000 to 25,000.

Here’s what we do know based on this data…

  • Elephants are being killed for ivory at a greater rate than they can reproduce
  • Poaching appears to have leveled off just this year; it is still alarmingly high
  • Most large seizures of contraband ivory in the past few years have been happening in Africa, indicating that some progress has been made in disrupting ivory trafficking networks close to the poaching problem

RELATED: No cheers for trophy hunting 

There are relevant questions about the scope of the collected data set. Data about illegal wildlife crime activities is inherently difficult to gather. We only receive a glimpse into illicit activities based on the evidence we can find, and we know we don’t find everything.

Julian Blanc, director of the CITES-led Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme, said they are monitoring only “30 to 40 percent of the elephant population, through a peer-reviewed process that gives us the best available global estimates.”

He says flat-out that there is room to improve on their conservative figures, which are forecasted statistically based on those relatively small empirical numbers.

CITES Secretary-General John E. Scanlon recommended that we do not stray from our mission to address this “dire” situation because, after all, “poaching trends can shift dramatically and quickly.”

MIKE data and extrapolations, though conservative, are widely accepted as minimum values and at least allows us a glimpse as to the scale of the poaching crisis decimating African elephant populations.

Other reliable sources have estimated that the number may have been in past years as high as 50,000. In the end, we will never truly know.

We must renew our commitment to protect elephants from poaching for the illegal ivory trade. We must:

  • Develop new ways to work with communities living closest to elephants
  • Support national and international authorities in elephant protection
  • Combat illegal wildlife trade
  • Reduce consumer demand in Asia, the US and elsewhere around the world

Elephants are in crisis and need our help now.

We are not standing still.

We are continually building momentum to end this slaughter.

Director of International Environmental Agreements, Peter Pueschel, and Director of International Law & Policy, Paul Todd, will be attending the standing committee meeting this week, for which these numbers have been prepared.

Stand with us.


Learn more about IFAW efforts to protect elephants, visit our campaign page.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Pauline Verheij, Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Country Representative, Germany
Country Representative, Germany
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy