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Why African Forest Elephants Need Almost a Century to Recover from Poaching, Ivory Trade

Aug 31, 2016 08:50 AM EDT

The severity of elephant poaching in South Africa has escalated through the years, and this could still worsen. A new study reveals that it would take about a century, 90 years to be exact, for elephants to re-breed and overcome what they have lost.

The study, conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, says that there's a danger for African forest elephants to be wiped out in the next 10 years as they are slow-breeding animals. And with the rampant ivory trade, it's a bleak future for these giant creatures.

The researchers came up with the results by analyzing 23 years of data on elephants in the Dzanga forest located in Central Africa. Results show that there has been a massive 65 percent elephant decline in Central Africa between 2002 and 2013, New Scientist reports.

To put this numbers into perspective, Peter Wrege, co-author of the study from the Elephant Listening Project, notes that in 2013, about 100,000 elephants remained in the forest. However, because of intense poaching, the data suggests that there's only 12,000 to 15,000 forest elephants left.

"At this rate, forest elephants will be essentially extinct in one decade -- by 2023. This should worry everybody," Wrege said.

One thing that adds to the problem of declining population of African forest elephants is the species' slow reproduction rate. The study notes that unlike its relatives which start to breed at the age of 12, African forest elephants start at a later age of 23, and then only give birth once every five or six years. This means that in order to regain its former number, the current population must wait for up to 90 years.

“The main point is recovery will take 8-9 times longer than [the] recent decade of poaching,” George Wittemyer, co-author of the study, told The Huffington Post. “The data we present really paints a dire portrait of the forest elephant situation -- we are dealing with a highly sensitive, slow reproducing animal that simply cannot handle the pressure put on it by ivory consumption."

This calculation, however, is estimated considering that current poaching practices continue in Africa. However, this could still be lessen to 40 years if the ivory trade stops. Andrea Turkalo, lead author of the study, says that the recent findings give us more understanding on the gravity of the situation and the conservation status of these animals.

“The impact of these data is that forest elephants are facing a huge challenge in recovery from current poaching rates and if the poaching is not curtailed they are faced with extinction sooner than we thought. Unless we can better protect them and curtail the development of extractive industries in areas where forest elephants are present these animals are condemned,” Turkalo added in a press release.

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