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Concept: Ivory


Carbon-14 measurements on 231 elephant ivory specimens from 14 large ivory seizures (≥0.5 ton) made between 2002 and 2014 show that most ivory (ca 90%) was derived from animals that had died less than 3 y before ivory was confiscated. This indicates that the assumption of recent elephant death for mortality estimates of African elephants is correct: Very little “old” ivory is included in large ivory shipments from Africa. We found only one specimen of the 231 analyzed to have a lag time longer than 6 y. Patterns of trade differ by regions: East African ivory, based on genetic assignments of geographic origin, has a much higher fraction of “rapid” transit than ivory originating in the Tridom region of Cameroon-Gabon-Congo. Carbon-14 is an important tool in understanding patterns of movement of illegal wildlife products.

Concepts: Elephant, Asian Elephant, Elephants, Radiocarbon dating, Carbon-14, Ivory, African Bush Elephant


Illegal wildlife trade has reached alarming levels globally, extirpating populations of commercially valuable species. As a driver of biodiversity loss, quantifying illegal harvest is essential for conservation and sociopolitical affairs but notoriously difficult. Here we combine field-based carcass monitoring with fine-scale demographic data from an intensively studied wild African elephant population in Samburu, Kenya, to partition mortality into natural and illegal causes. We then expand our analytical framework to model illegal killing rates and population trends of elephants at regional and continental scales using carcass data collected by a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species program. At the intensively monitored site, illegal killing increased markedly after 2008 and was correlated strongly with the local black market ivory price and increased seizures of ivory destined for China. More broadly, results from application to continental data indicated illegal killing levels were unsustainable for the species between 2010 and 2012, peaking to ∼8% in 2011 which extrapolates to ∼40,000 elephants illegally killed and a probable species reduction of ∼3% that year. Preliminary data from 2013 indicate overharvesting continued. In contrast to the rest of Africa, our analysis corroborates that Central African forest elephants experienced decline throughout the last decade. These results provide the most comprehensive assessment of illegal ivory harvest to date and confirm that current ivory consumption is not sustainable. Further, our approach provides a powerful basis to determine cryptic mortality and gain understanding of the demography of at-risk species.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Demography, Endangered species, Elephant, Asian Elephant, Elephants, Ivory, African Bush Elephant


In the southern Bago Yoma mountain range in Myanmar, Asian elephants are being killed at a disturbing rate. This emerging crisis was identified initially through a telemetry study when 7 of 19 of collared elephants were poached within a year of being fitted with a satellite-GPS collar. Subsequent follow up of ground teams confirmed the human caused death or disappearance of at least 19 elephants, including the seven collared individuals, within a 35 km2 area in less than two years. The carcasses of 40 additional elephants were found in areas located across south-central Myanmar once systematic surveys began by our team and collaborators. In addition to the extreme rate of loss, this study documents the targeting of elephants for their skin instead of the more common ivory, an increasing trend in Myanmar. Intensive research programs focused on other conservation problems identified this issue and are now encouraging local authorities to prioritize anti-poaching efforts and improve conservation policies within the country. Myanmar represents one of the last remaining countries in Asia with substantial wildlands suitable for elephants. Increasing rates of human-elephant conflict and poaching events in this country pose a dire threat to the global population.

Concepts: Population, Elephant, Warning sign, Asian Elephant, War elephant, Tiger, Ivory, Collar


Poaching of elephants is now occurring at rates that threaten African populations with extinction. Identifying the number and location of Africa’s major poaching hotspots may assist efforts to end poaching and facilitate recovery of elephant populations. We genetically assign origin to 28 large ivory seizures (≥0.5 tons) made between 1996-2014, also testing assignment accuracy. Results suggest that the major poaching hotspots in Africa may be currently concentrated in as few as two areas. Increasing law enforcement in these two hotspots could help curtail future elephant losses across Africa and disrupt this organized transnational crime.

Concepts: Africa, Lion, Hunting, Elephant, Hippopotamus, Police, African Union, Ivory


Efforts to curb elephant poaching have focused on reducing demand, confiscating ivory and boosting security patrols in elephant range. Where land is under multiple uses and ownership, determining the local poaching dynamics is important for identifying successful conservation models. Using 2,403 verified elephant, Loxodonta africana, mortality records collected from 2002 to 2012 and the results of aerial total counts of elephants conducted in 2002, 2008 and 2012 for the Laikipia-Samburu ecosystem of northern Kenya, we sought to determine the influence of land ownership and use on diurnal elephant distribution and on poaching levels. We show that the annual proportions of illegally killed (i.e., poached) elephants increased over the 11 years of the study, peaking at 70% of all recorded deaths in 2012. The type of land use was more strongly related to levels of poaching than was the type of ownership. Private ranches, comprising only 13% of land area, hosted almost half of the elephant population and had significantly lower levels of poaching than other land use types except for the officially designated national reserves (covering only 1.6% of elephant range in the ecosystem). Communal grazing lands hosted significantly fewer elephants than expected, but community areas set aside for wildlife demonstrated significantly higher numbers of elephants and lower illegal killing levels relative to non-designated community lands. While private lands had lower illegal killing levels than community conservancies, the success of the latter relative to other community-held lands shows the importance of this model of land use for conservation. This work highlights the relationship between illegal killing and various land ownership and use models, which can help focus anti-poaching activities.

Concepts: Hunting, Elephant, Hippopotamus, Al-Fil, Asian Elephant, Elephants, Ivory, African Bush Elephant


Compensatory social behavior in nonhuman animals following maternal loss has been documented, but understanding of how orphans allocate bonding to reconstruct their social networks is limited. Successful social integration may be critical to survival and reproduction for highly social species and, therefore, may be tied to population persistence. We examined the social partners involved in affiliative interactions of female orphans and non-orphans in an elephant population in Samburu, northern Kenya that experienced heightened adult mortality driven by drought and intense ivory poaching. We contrasted partners across different competitive contexts to gain insight to the influence of resource availability on social interactions. Though the number of partners did not differ between orphans and non-orphans, their types of social partners did. Orphans interacted with sisters and matriarchs less while feeding than did non-orphans, but otherwise their affiliates were similar. While resting under spatially concentrated shade, orphans had markedly less access to mature adults but affiliated instead with sisters, bulls, and age mates. Orphan propensity to strengthen bonds with non-dominant animals appears to offer routes to social integration following maternal loss, but lack of interaction with adult females suggests orphans may experience decreased resource access and associated fitness costs in this matriarchal society.

Concepts: Male, Sociology, Hunting, Elephant, Social behavior, Ivory, Orphan, Matriarchy


East African elephants have been hunted for their ivory for millennia but the nineteenth century witnessed strongly escalating demand from Europe and North America. It has been suggested that one consequence was that by the 1880s elephant herds along the coast had become scarce, and to meet demand, trade caravans trekked farther into interior regions of East Africa, extending the extraction frontier. The steady decimation of elephant populations coupled with the extension of trade networks have also been claimed to have triggered significant ecological and socio-economic changes that left lasting legacies across the region. To explore the feasibility of using an isotopic approach to uncover a ‘moving frontier’ of elephant extraction, we constructed a baseline isotope data set (δ13C, δ15N, δ18O and 87Sr/86Sr) for historic East African elephants known to have come from three distinct regions (coastal, Rift Valley, and inland Lakes). Using the isotope results with other climate data and geographical mapping tools, it was possible to characterise elephants from different habitats across the region. This baseline data set was then used to provenance elephant ivory of unknown geographical provenance that was exported from East Africa during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to determine its likely origin. This produced a better understanding of historic elephant geography in the region, and the data have the potential to be used to provenance older archaeological ivories, and to inform contemporary elephant conservation strategies.

Concepts: Africa, Geography, Centuries, Kenya, Elephant, East Africa, 19th century, Ivory


Illegal hunting of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) for ivory is causing rapid declines in their populations. Since 2007, illegal ivory trade has more than doubled. African elephants are facing the most serious conservation crisis since 1989, when international trade was banned. One solution proposed is establishment of a controlled legal trade in ivory. High prices for ivory mean that the incentives to obtain large quantities are high, but the quantity of tusks available for trade are biologically constrained. Within that context, effective management of a legal ivory trade would require robust systems to be in place to ensure that ivory from illegally killed elephants cannot be laundered into a legal market. At present, that is not feasible due to corruption among government officials charged with implementing wildlife-related legislation. With organized criminal enterprises involved along the whole commodity chain, corruption enables the laundering of illegal ivory into legal or potentially legal markets. Poachers and traffickers can rapidly pay their way out of trouble, so the financial incentives to break the law heavily outweigh those of abiding by it. Maintaining reliable permitting systems and leak-proof chains of custody in this context is challenging, and effective management breaks down. Once illegal ivory has entered the legal trade, it is difficult or impossible for enforcement officers to know what is legal and illegal. Addressing corruption throughout a trade network that permeates countries across the globe will take decades, if it can ever be achieved. That will be too late for wild African elephants at current rates of loss. If we are to conserve remaining wild populations, we must close all markets because, under current levels of corruption, they cannot be controlled in a way that does not provide opportunities for illegal ivory being laundered into legal markets. Comercio Legal de Marfil en un Mundo Corrupto y su Imapacto sobre Poblaciones de Elefantes.

Concepts: Hunting, Elephant, Trade, Asian Elephant, Elephants, Ivory, African elephant, African Bush Elephant


Recent increases in ivory poaching have depressed African elephant populations. Successful enforcement has led to ivory being stockpiled. Stockpile destruction is becoming increasingly popular, and most destruction has occurred in the last five years. Ivory destruction is intended to send a strong message against ivory consumption, both in promoting a taboo on ivory use and catalyzing policy change. However, there has been no effort to establish the distribution and extent of media reporting on ivory destruction events globally. We analyze media coverage across eleven important nation states of the largest ivory destruction event in history (Kenya, 30 April 2016). We used a well-accepted online media crawling tool and key language translations to search online and print newspapers. We found most online news on the ivory burn came from the US (81% of articles), while print news was dominated by Kenya (61% of articles). We subjected online articles from five key countries and territories to content analysis and found 86-97% of all online articles reported the burn as a positive conservation action, while between 4-50% discussed ivory burning as having a negative impact on elephant conservation. Most articles discussed law enforcement and trade bans as effective for elephant conservation. There was more relative search interest globally on the 2016 Kenyan ivory burn than any other in five years. Our study is the first attempt to track the spread of media around an ivory burn and is a case study in tracking the effects of a conservation-marketing event. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: All rights reserved, Kenya, Elephant, Police, Copyright, Nation, Ivory, 2016


Despite the 1989 ivory trade ban, elephants continue to be killed to harvest their tusks for ivory. Since 2008, this poaching has increased to unprecedented levels driven by consumer demand for ivory products. CITES is now considering the development of a legal ivory trade [1, 2]. The proposal relies on three assumptions: (1) harvest regulation will cease all illegal activities, (2) defined sustainable quotas can be enforced, and (3) we can define meaningful sustainable quotas that come close to the current demand. We know that regulation of harvest does not stop illegal takes. Despite whaling regulation after World War II, illegal whaling continued for decades [3]. The introduction of wolf culls in the US actually increased poaching activities [4], and one-off ivory sales in 1999 and 2008 did nothing to halt elephant poaching. Governance issues over the ivory supply chains, including stockpiling, make enforcing quotas challenging, if not impossible [5, 6]. We have not yet adequately assessed what could be a sustainable ivory yield. To do so, we develop a compartmental model composed of a two-sex age-structured demographic model and an ivory production and harvest model. We applied several offtake and quota strategies to define how much ivory could be sustainably harvested. We found that the sustainability space is very small. Only 100 to 150 kg of ivory could be removed from a reference population of 1,360 elephants, levels well below the current demand. Our study shows that lifting the ivory ban will not address the current poaching challenge. We should instead focus on reducing consumer demand.

Concepts: Agriculture, Sustainability, United Nations, Elephant, World War II, Sustainable development, Ivory, Tusk