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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Conserve elephants. They hold a scientific mirror up to humans

Conserve elephants. They hold a scientific mirror up to humans

THE symbol of the World Wide Fund for Nature is a giant panda. The panda’s black-and-white pelage certainly makes for a striking logo. But, though pandas are an endangered species, the cause of their endangerment is depressingly quotidian: a loss of habitat as Earth’s human population increases. A better icon might be an elephant, particularly an African elephant, for elephants are not mere collateral damage in humanity’s relentless expansion. Often, rather, they are deliberate targets, shot by poachers, who want their ivory; by farmers, because of the damage they do to crops; and by cattle herders, who see them as competitors for forage.

In August 2016 the result of the Great Elephant Census, the most extensive count of a wild species ever attempted, suggested that about 350,000 African savannah elephants remain alive. This is down by 140,000 since 2007. The census, conducted by a team led by Mike Chase, an ecologist based in Botswana, and paid for by Paul Allen, one of the founders of Microsoft, undertook almost 500,000km of aerial surveys to come to its conclusion—though the team were unable to include forest elephants, a smaller, more reclusive type that live in west and central Africa, and which many biologists think a separate species.

That most of the decline has been brought about by poaching is scarcely in doubt. Seizures of smuggled ivory, and the size of the carved-ivory market compared with the small amount of legal ivory available, confirm it. But habitat loss is important, too—and not just the conversion of bush into farmland. Roads, railways and fences, built as Africa develops, stop elephants moving around. And an elephant needs a lot of room. According to George Wittemyer of Save the Elephants (STE), a Kenyan research-and-conservation charity, an average elephant living in and around Samburu National Reserve, in northern Kenya, ranges over 1,500 square kilometres during the course of a year, and may travel as much as 60km a day.

Full story at http://econ.st/2rMQkM6

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