The largest land mammal on Earth, elephants embody the African landscape. Using seasonal cues and their long-term memories, these giant creatures travel vast distances in close-knit herds to find water and food throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Highly intelligent and social animals, they learn most of their behaviors through the leadership of their older relatives, communicating with each other from miles away.
Long-term challenges to the survival of African elephants include loss of habitat, human-elephant conflict, and political instability. And tragically, for the second time in a century, elephants in Africa are being slaughtered for their ivory tusks at rates that are causing severe population declines across the continent. The illicit trade in ivory continues to rise due to flaws in trade regulations and lack of enforcement ability, while anti-poaching efforts are inadequate.
Fortunately, the United States has a crucial role to play in elephant conservation. Elephants are currently listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, and the Fish and Wildlife Service took a strong stand against elephant poaching when it issued the Director’s Order to combat wildlife trafficking in February 2014 that tightened ivory import regulations. In July 2015 the Service proposed new rules clamping down on ivory sales within the U.S. Following on these recommendations, In 2016 the Obama administration announced new trade restrictions on elephant ivory, nearly shutting down the U.S. ivory market and making it much harder for traffickers to find cover for their illegal ivory imports.
Another key factor in elephant conservation is accurate species classification. Despite compelling genetic research concluding that there are two species of African elephants — forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) and savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana) — the two species are still managed as one. Forest and savannah elephants occupy different ecological niches and face different threats and should be managed in accordance with these differences. That’s why in 2015 the Center petitioned to have elephants reclassified as two species and uplisted to the more protective “endangered” status. The 2016, in response to our petition, the Service announced that that Africa’s elephants may qualify for “endangered” status under the Endangered Species Act and may warrant reclassification as two separate species.
We're encouraged by these new developments but there's still much to do. With your help, we'll continue to fight hard for the survival of African elephants.
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Contact: Tara Easter