According to a 14-year study, adult elephants in northern Kenya are more likely to die at the hands of humans than from natural causes.
George Wittemyer, a wildlife biologist at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, and lead author of the study, published the findings in the journal PLOS ONE. The Scientists began the study in 1997 to better understand elephant behavior in two national reserves, Samburu and Buffalo Springs, and focused on 934 elephants. But after seeing a major shift in poaching, they shifted their study in 2009 to look at the effects the poaching was having on the elephants they knew.
In 2000, the researchers noted that there were 38 male elephants over the age of 30 in the population they were studying. By 2011 that number dropped to 12, seven of which matured to that age group over that 11-year time span. Adult females also suffered substantial loses, with almost half of those 30 years old dying between 2006 and 2011.
The researchers concluded that by 2011, 56% of the elephants that were found dead had been poached and that the poaching spree is also altering the elephants’ social organization. Male elephants that once made up 42% of the population were down to 32% and 10 of the 50 elephant groups from the initial study were effectively wiped out.
Wittemyer adds that, “Some elephants died from a bad drought that hit the region between 2009 and 2010” and that their data shows that the Samburu elephants have responded to the pressure from poaching with a big jump in births in 2012.
Reference: “Comparative Demography of an At-Risk African Elephant Population” by George Wittemyer, David Daballen and Iain Douglas-Hamilton, 16 January 2013, PLOS ONE.