Poaching of the African Elephant: Analytical Essay

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Case Study

The majestic African Elephant is faced with the fight of its life, threatened by poachers all over Africa. Through non-governmental organizations and the support from local communities, there is still hope for the African Elephant to thrive.

“My fascination with and love for elephants began when I first encountered a herd. I was on foot in the forests on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater,” says Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and a UN Messenger of Peace.

“On World Elephant Day, we pay tribute to these wise, gentle giants who so perfectly represent the natural wonders of the world. But today is not a time for celebration [1].”

The African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) populations are currently threatened by overhunting through poaching. Poaching is the illegal hunting or capturing of wild animals and is a well-known issue in Africa with subjects being larger animals like the African Elephant and the African Lion. Despite being illegal, poaching is still happening within protected areas and within the law [2].

(Figure 1 – Extant (yellow) and possible extant (purple) regions in which the African Elephant can be found [4]) The African Elephant is found in 37 countries in sub-Saharan Africa ranging in including Central, Eastern, and Southern Africa (Figure 1). This magnificent creature plays an important role in Africa’s savannah and forest regions acting as an ecosystem engineer and creating new ecosystems for amphibians, reptiles, and other species residing in the area [5]. The elephant also plays a major role in Africa’s economy by supporting ecotourism.

Poaching continues to be an issue due to the high demands for ivory from neighboring countries. Poorer local communities lack the incentive to conserve elephant populations because they are seen as a nuisance and the economic benefits are not apparent from ecotourism or through conservation efforts.

The African Elephant is currently listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List [4] and if the poaching industry continues to grow, the African Elephant may cease to exist in the near future.

Animal Health Concerns

Elephants, the world’s largest land mammals, are important ecosystem engineers of the savannah and forest ecosystems of Africa [6]. By destroying hardy vegetation in an area, they are creating new grassland habitats, inducing succession while also controlling bush encroachment [5]. It was found that areas of heavy damage done by elephants yield higher species richness than plots that have not been altered (Figure 2).

Elephants also act as vectors for seed dispersal through fecal matter as they are unable to digest seeds [5]. This is important for the natural planting of trees.

Figure 2 – Mean herpetofauna species richness based on damage site at Endarakwai Ranch, Tanzania from August 2007-March 2008 (* indicates significant difference at p = 0.05) [5]

The poaching of the African Elephant appears to have pushed forest elephants into the savannah region [7]. This unidirectional movement coincides with higher levels of crop-raiding and destruction in local farms causing the destruction of crops [7].

Along with this furthermore, the killing of matriarchs removes the female herd leader and with that goes with knowledge of scarce water supply sources during droughts REF _Ref21290083 r h [7] and. This can also result in a wider dispersal of the herd in unknown territory, making them more susceptible to poachers or other predators [7].

(Figure 3 – Influence diagram representing factors impacting the African Elephant population.) The detrimental effects of poaching are very apparent in the literature and well documented, but there is still a rise in poaching this activity is still on the rise due to the popular demand for elephant tusks to produce ivory products. From 1930 to 2019, Africa’s elephant population dropped from roughly 10 million to 400,000 [1]. This significant drop is almost entirely the result of poaching to supply the illegal sale of ivory. Elephant populations in Zimbabwe, Gabon, and Mozambique have declined by more than 70% since 2001, 2004, and 2009, respectively while in Northern Botswana, the number of fresh elephant carcasses increased by 593% from 2014 to 2018 [8]. In 2018 alone, 156 elephants were poached for their tusks and an estimated 385 individuals were poached in Botswana in 2017-2018 [8].

The uncontrolled hunting of these animals will result in an eventual decline in genetic diversity as well as disruption to the balance of ecosystems. There are implications for a possible decline in species diversity in the region if the elephant goes extinct. If numbers continue to decline, there will be irreversible effects in terms of success rates as well as a positive feedback loop, causing potential deaths of more individuals with increased hunting of matriarchs.

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The Elephant Economy

Elephants play a major role in African eco-tourism within Africa, bringing in about $40 billion according to the World Tourism Council and providing around 6% of the total employment on the continent [2]. It is suggested that poachingPoaching rates may be the highest in poorer regions where financial security is dependent on illegal activities [6].

Poaching is driven by international organized crime syndicates, many of which are members of the military. The revenue from ivory sales benefits these groups while none of the financial benefits goes into the villages or communities [1]. Poaching raises funds to obtain weapons and other materials in order to wage war against African governments [2].

The main driver of elephant poaching is the high demand for ivory in China. China is a major driver of increased poaching based on growth in per capita income, analysis of intercepted ivory shipments and their destinations, and their large economic involvement in Africa [6]. The high demand for ivory in China is due to the increase in the middle-class population. Ivory and rhino horns are an aphrodisiac in the Chinese culture, which is now affordable to a new, large demographic resulting in a boom in the ivory market [2]. Large seizures of ivory were made in Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, implying the industry is growing [6].

The illegal sales of ivory are not terminated as There are legal and illegal sources of ivory, but it is difficult to distinguish what animal the ivory came from between the two. This may result in economic and political downfall by feeding the criminal cartels, increased corruption, and overall chaos within villages and local communities in Africa.

Voices of the Locals

The media often portrays elephant poaching as “ugly” [1] and it’s a large problem that needs to be solved. But However, the voices of locals say otherwise.

The killing of Cecil the Lion back in July 2015 by American big-game hunter Walter Palmer caused a public media uproar, portraying Cecil’s death as “utmost evil” [9]. The locals, on the other hand, were happy with the death of Cecil. “We were very happy to hear the death of Cecil the Lion. We actually wish the shooter had killed more of Cecil’s cousin and brothers because we are suffering in this area,” say members of a Mathuthu village focus group discussion in the Zimbabwe Hwange district.

Wildlife is directly responsible for increased labor strains on locals. Fields must be guarded against small and large grazing animals to ensure they do not interfere with crop growth [9]. The main crop destroyers include elephants, baboons, warthogs, lions, hyenas, and leopards [9].

Many locals have developed a negative perspective toward wildlife and conservation efforts as they see little economic gain and direct negative effects of wildlife. Locals actively participate in wildlife destruction as a method of gaining compensation for negative externalities from the market for ecosystem services, including conservation [9].

Finding a Solution

After Due to a sharp decline in elephant populations in the 1900s, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) had banned the sale of ivory worldwide in 1989 after then-Kenyan President, Daniel Arap Moi, ignited a 12-tonne pile of elephant tusks to promote change in global policy on ivory exportation [10]. leading This led to rebounds in elephant populations. But, in 1999 and 2008, the ban had been was lifted due to pressure from countries in Asia and Africa allowing and CITES allowed two sanctioned sales of ivory [11], resulting in a further decline in elephant populations.

Suggested solutions moving forward include anti-poaching policies focusing on the effectiveness of law enforcement such as better-resourced rangers patrolling the land [6]. Sport hunting of elephants is only permitted under the legislation of several Range States. Botswana, Cameroon, Gabon, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe have CITES export quotas for elephant trophies [4]. Despite this, poaching continues to be an ongoing issue. The problem with this suggested approach is that commodity prices continue to rise, and law enforcement becomes inadequate when analyzing the numerous examples of thriving illegal markets [6].

Studies have used sirens and low-altitude drones to elicit a flight response in rhinos as an anti-poaching tactic, enabling them to move away from undesirable areas [12]. Conservation reserve managers can also use drones to respond to reports of at-risk animals, including elephants.


The most interesting conservation strategy though is actually the controlled hunting of game animals. The Communal Areas Management Program for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) program in Zimbabwe focuses mainly on elephant conservation through the process of trophy hunting. This strategy is developed around wildlife and habitat management for the benefit of residential communities and is designed to decentralize the management of natural resources in communal areas [9]. The CAMPFIRE program was first implemented in November 1988 with support from U.S. aid, promising financial rewards to locals for the active conservation of wildlife resources [2]. Hunting is done on controlled land that can be used for subsistence or community purposes in partnership with hunting outfitters to come and engage in the hunts [2]. Hunters will pay to partake in the hunting of game animals, encouraging economic growth within these conservation communities. Revenue from the sale of the animal is split between the safari hunters and the community members where community members keep a majority of the revenue, further increasing economic growth. Local communities utilize this revenue for infrastructures like roads, schools, and clinics. Meat from the game is distributed to the locals, providing about 274,000 pounds of meat annually. The desired impact of CAMPFIRE is to create more incentives for conserving elephant populations within the area. Since the implementation of the CAMPFIRE program, elephant populations have doubled within the conservation areas [2].

With the implementation of strategies like CAMPFIRE through non-government organizations (NGOs) and getting the locals involved, the negative perspectives of locals may shift by seeking when they see economic gains within their communities and see recognize the value in conserving elephants, not just through a biological view, but an economic and social view.


Elephant poaching continues to be an issue in Africa and will continue to be an issue unless a holistic approach is taken. Considering stakeholder inclusion, whether it’s hearing the voice of the locals or creating incentives for conservation, the economic viewpoint and the biological aspect of the issue are essential to ensure the elephant population thrives once again.


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