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Poachers killed more than 100,000 elephants in Africa over a three-year period, a new study says. The pace has likely intensified since the study concluded. Scientists say it’s the first time they’ve ever been able to provide such a specific number of illegal elephant killings, and raises questions about the species’ survival when fewer than 500,000 elephants are still roaming the wilds of Africa.
“We don’t know the precise number of elephants left in the world,” said study co-author George Wittemyer, a professor at Colorado State University. “It’s been a disaster.”
Wittemyer and his colleagues combined aerial surveys with ground surveys to estimate deaths from 2010-2012. A male elephant with two full tusks can be worth $10,000 to a poacher willing to illegally kill it and hack off its face to remove the ivory, Wittemyer said. The rest of the animal is left to rot.
“The animals are worth so much, and the criminal element turned their attention to this new avenue,” he said. Although both male and female African elephants have tusks, the males’ are bigger and worth more to poachers.
Elephant poaching last peaked in the 1970s and ’80s when Western and Japanese buyers sought it for art, Wittemyer said. A public relations campaign chilled the ivory market for a while, Wittemyer said, but demand from China is renewing the problem. He said better enforcement by rangers in Africa’s wildlife preserves and a comprehensive effort to de-value ivory as a collectible would help protect the species.
Meanwhile, several efforts are under way to help turn the rising tide against wildlife poachers. In addition to our “Save Kilimanjaro” campaign, celebrities and people around the world are taking action to save endangered species.
Leonardo DiCaprio is making two movies about animal poaching to raise awareness of the issue among mainstream audiences. Both films are yet unnamed and being produced by Warner Bros. The first is a thriller in the same style as “Traffic.”’ It’s been in development for two years, with writer Will Staples recently announced for the screenplay.
The second film in development also will be co-produced by the three actors – with Hardy set to star in the leading role. It’s being penned by veteran writer Sheldon Turner and takes place in Africa; with Hardy’s character, a former special forces soldier, training rangers to fight against elephant and rhino poachers.
Other celebrity efforts include Chinese citizens Yao Ming, a former star in the NBA, actor Jackie Chan, and Chinese actress Li Bing Bing. All have been actively campaigning within China to raise awareness about the plight of the elephants.
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