Environment and Ecology

Endangered Plants and Animals

What is the status of the African elephant?

The African elephant (Loxodonta africana) may actually be—according to genetic evidence—two species: the Savanna Elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis), and maybe even a third, the West African elephant. This species is the largest terrestrial animal; its extent is not certain, as it has such an enormous range and wide variety of habitats it occupies. The African elephant is considered an endangered species, mainly because of habitat loss due to human development and expansion, and before conservation laws were enforced, illegal hunting for both meat and ivory (tusks). Between 1979 and 1989, Africa lost half of its elephants from poaching and illegal ivory trade, with the population decreasing from an estimated 1.3 million to 600,000. This led to the transfer of the African elephant from threatened to endangered status in October 1989 by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). An ivory ban took effect on January 18, 1990, with Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe agreeing to restrict the sale of ivory to a single, government-controlled center in each country. All countries have further pledged to allow independent monitoring of the sale, packing, and shipping process to ensure compliance with all conditions. In addition, all net revenues from the sale of ivory will be directed back into elephant conservation for use in monitoring, research, law enforcement, other management expenses, or community-based conservation programs within elephant range.


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