A global ban placed on the ivory trade in 1989 was widely credited with stemming a relentless slaughter of African elephants in countries such as Kenya. But elephant poaching in Africa has surged again, driven by Asian demand for tusks for use in jewelry and ornaments.

According to TRAFFIC, a conservation group which tracks trends in wildlife trading, most of the illegal African ivory winds up in China or Thailand. In 2011 there were at least 13 large-scale seizures of over 2,000 pounds of ivory, more than double the amount recorded in 2010. That figure probably represents the slaughter of some 2,500 elephants, possibly more.

Elephants in Tsavo national park, Kenya. (Photo: ZUMA Press)

Tom Milliken, who manages TRAFFIC’s Elephant Trade Information System, said the poaching and illegal trade were consequences of China’s investment drive into Africa to secure the mineral and energy resources it needs to fuel its economic growth.

“We’ve reached a point in Africa’s history where there are more Asian nationals on the continent than ever before. They have contacts with the end use market and now they are at the source in Africa,” he told Reuters. It “all (adds) up to an unprecedented assault on elephants and other wildlife.”

Elephant poaching is particularly rampant in Democratic Republic of Congo, but killing for ivory has spread across much of Central Africa, including Zimbabwe, Zambia, northern Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya.

Estimates of Africa’s elephant population vary widely from around 400,000 to 700,000.

Ironically, in some southern African states such as Botswana, there are large and growing populations of elephants, and in South Africa there are concerns that pachyderm numbers have swelled to the point that they are damaging the environment in enclosed reserves.

Source: Reuters Environmental Online Report