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Major Hot Spots of Elephant Poaching Discovered Through DNA Testing; But Will Poaching End?

Roughly 50,000 elephants are poached every year, and as a result of matching the DNA fingerprint of seized ivory to DNA profiles from elephant dung throughout the continent, scientists were able to determine the major hot spots of elephant poaching.

One of the worst areas for poaching was identified as Tanzania, and parts of Mozambique. As well as the Tridom, which spans areas in Gabon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon.

Despite the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora ban of ivory trade in 1989, a black market continues to thrive on the poaching of elephants purely for their ivory, mostly in Asian markets. The continuous poaching has resulted in driving the elephant population to less than half a million no matter how hard the international community has fought to stop ivory sales.

Most scientists believe that the next step is finding these hotspots. Now, they will be able to monitory populations in these areas and this will hopefully help in tracking down poachers and preventing the deaths of more elephants.

In the last 3-4 years alone, poachers have killed over 100,000 African elephants, with central Africa having the hardest hit elephant population as it declined by 64% in the last decade.

Although those in the rest of the world may be purely sympathetic to the loss of elephants, it is important for us to understand that losing elephants has an effect worldwide. Elephants are a keystone species in Africa and are needed in all sorts of ecosystems that are spread across the vast continent. They assist in maintaining tree diversity as well as impacting the ecology of the land quite significantly.

Elephants are not the only animals at risk to poaching at the moment either. Rhinos are also being hunted into near extinction as a result of the Asian medicine markets’ belief (although contested and doubted) that rhino horns can be used as a treatment for various illnesses. Rhinos are poached similarly to elephants, through international poaching criminal syndicates and it is actually an extremely dangerous job to be essentially a rhino “bodyguard.”

Other methods are utilized throughout Africa to protect rhinos and elephants. After visiting a few of South Africa’s national parks this year, I was confronted with rhinos and elephants who had had their tusks and horns trimmed to reduce the risk of being poached. However, rhinos would never be safe, as some whose horns are trimmed down still run the risk of being poached as poachers try to dig out even the tiniest bit of the horn as they can.

Although I agree that there is a lot to be said for science and for protecting elephants and rhinos on the ground, it shocks me that there is not as much effort being placed in educating the largely Asian market about how rhino horns are actually not that helpful at curing illnesses, and in teaching them that ivory is actually not necessary for these unnecessary trinkets that they want. As someone who was spoiled by being able to see lots of elephants throughout numerous parks in South Africa and a few rhinos, I hope that future generations will be able to see them, but unfortunately, I feel as if if there is no change in policies, that I may see the end of rhinos and elephants in my life time. And that is a very heart breaking thought.

About Emily Hersey

Emily is an African Studies and History student who loves reading, the gym, hip hop and horses. If she's not working on her latest research project, she's definitely working towards her next trip to South Africa and doing her Master's degree there. Contact Emily: [email protected]