Africa’s elephant population has plummeted from roughly a million in 1970 to around 400,000 today – a decline which is largely blamed on poaching for their ivory tusks. At its peak in 2011, poaching claimed 36,000 elephants a year, or one every 15 minutes.
Many of us are familiar with these statistics thanks to campaigns to end the ivory trade. But with our attention focused on poaching, an arguably greater threat to Africa’s elephants has emerged. In the time that Africa’s elephant population has crashed, its human population has boomed. The number of people living in Africa has doubled since 1982, reaching a billion in 2009, and is expected to double again by 2050.
To feed and house this growing population, natural habitats have been fragmented by roads and railways and entire swathes have been converted to farmland and settlements. As a result, Africa’s elephants have been squeezed into smaller and increasingly isolated pockets of land. It’s very possible that the future for all of Africa’s elephants will resemble what is currently seen in South Africa.