African elephant poaching rates have declined since 2011 according to an analysis published in Nature Communications. The paper reports that the decline in poaching at 53 sites across sub-Saharan Africa was correlated with changes in the demand for ivory from China. However, variation in poaching rates between the different sites was associated with indicators of corruption and poverty locally.
African elephant poaching increased during the early 2000s, with populations both inside and outside protected areas falling by 30% in seven years. Despite international intervention to curb the trade in ivory, the effectiveness of these policies has remained unclear.
Severin Hauenstein, Colin Beale and colleagues analyzed annual carcass-encounter data from 53 African Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) sites across 29 countries in sub-Saharan Africa between 2002 and 2017. They compared this to local and global socio-economic factors (including ivory price) to identify processes associated with poaching rates. The authors observed a decline in the annual poaching mortality rate from a peak of over 10% in 2011 to less than 4% in 2017. This was associated with reduced demand for ivory in the main Chinese markets.
However, variation in the poaching rate between the different sites was associated with levels of poverty (measured by infant mortality and poverty density) and corruption (using a perceived corruption index). The authors argue that further investment in law enforcement may help reduce poaching rates, but a comprehensive socio-economic strategy to tackle corruption and poverty in communities neighbouring protected areas may have a greater effect.