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More Than 100,000 Elephants Killed in Three Years: Study

Aug 22, 2014 05:33 PM EDT

New research has revealed that more than 100,000 elephants were killed in the last three years alone, butchered for their ivory tusks.

As a result, the world's wild African elephants are endangered and on the track towards extinction, with populations declining two to three percent a year.

This study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reinforces the growing concern about elephant poaching, and is the first to provide a verifiable estimation of the impacts of the ongoing ivory crisis.

"Our data has become the most sensitive barometer of change during this poaching epidemic. We needed to quantify the scale of killing and figure out how to derive rigorous interpretation of poaching rates," lead author George Wittemyer of Colorado State University said in a statement.

Using monitoring data collected throughout Africa, but primarily focused on elephants in Samburu in northern Kenya, the researchers determined that over the last decade, the number of elephants killed has risen from 25 percent to between 60 percent and 70 percent. According to experts, anything over 54 percent is a threat to population numbers, as elephant birth rates cannot overcome such a high death toll.

"History has taught us that numbers alone are no defense against attrition from the ivory trade, and this new work confirms that elephant numbers are decreasing in East, Central and Southern Africa," added co-author Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of the organization Save the Elephants.

It is thought there may have been as many as 3-5 million African elephants in the 1930s and 1940s. However, in the wake of hunting for their valuable tusks, there are now only an estimated 300,000 elephants roaming the continent, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Ivory is used either for trophies or for the art of ivory carving and jewelry making

The United States recently took a stand on the ivory trade when first New Jersey and then New York enacted stricter bans on all ivory and rhino horn products.

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