They thought Dr Mike Chase, an elephant ecologist, was insane for wanting to conduct the Great Elephant Census, an endeavour on such a grand scale but for the critical purpose of understanding the true population of these creatures in Africa. Made possible by a millionaire philanthropist from Microsoft, the process is now complete and the results are in- and has revealed what we did not want to hear. In the 18 countries who participated in the survey, the count shows 352,271 elephants. Namibia refused to participate in the count, and South Sudan and Central African Republic could not be assessed due to the current instability and armed conflict. What does this mean? What we’ve always known- that the numbers are dropping fast. What is startling is the rapidly plummeting trajectory we’re on- like the steepest and fastest part of a rollercoaster, that has a very slim chance of ever going back up- is faster than originally thought.
Looking back at the numbers: - Early 20th century: 10 million - Late 1970s: 1.3 million - 1990s: 600,000 - Prior to the Census this year: 400,000 - After the census: 351,000. (Namibia has an estimated 20,000, South Sudan 5,000, CAR, 1000. Which still makes the total hover around 377,000.)
We’ve lost 30% in 7 years. Governments must look hard at these glaring numbers and understand what this means. We cannot afford to risk allowing once-off ivory sales under any circumstance for they will reinvigorate the demand-supply mechanism and trigger more poaching, more elephant deaths. There is nothing political about this issue in any sense- this is about the value of life. May the upcoming CITES conference show leadership and responsibility for the world’s wildlife and show that the survival of the elephant is not just a priority- it is an absolute imperative.