Poachers killed an estimated 100,000 elephants across Africa between 2010 and 2012, a huge spike in the continent's death rate of the world's largest mammals because of an increased demand for ivory in China and other Asian nations, a new study published Monday found.
Warnings about massive elephant slaughters have been ringing for years, but the study is the first to scientifically quantify the number of deaths across the continent by measuring deaths in one closely monitored park in Kenya and using other published data to extrapolate fatality tolls across the continent.
The study, which was carried out by the world's leading elephant experts, found that the proportion of illegally killed elephants has climbed from 25 percent of all elephant deaths a decade ago to roughly 65 percent of all elephant deaths today, a percentage that, if continued, will lead to the extinction of the species.
China's rising middle class and the demand for ivory in that country of 1.3 billion people is driving the black market price of ivory up, leading to more impoverished people in Africa "willing to take the criminal risk on and kill elephants," said the study's lead author, George Wittemyer of Colorado State University.
The peer-review study was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was co-written by experts from Save the Elephants, the Kenya Wildlife Service, an international group called MIKE responsible for monitoring the illegal killings of elephants, and two international universities.
"The current demand for ivory is unsustainable. That is our overarching conclusion," said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants.
China is aware of its image problem in the ivory trade. The embassy in Kenya this month donated antipoaching equipment to four wildlife conservancies. At the ceremony, Chinese Ambassador Liu Xianfa said that China is increasing publicity and education of its people to increase understanding of the illegal trade.