I have spent the last 15 years in Samburu, Kenya monitoring the individual elephants and their habitats. Unfortunately, in 2009, my research turned to face a growing epidemic of ivory poaching across the region. More than 50% of the elephant deaths in 2011 and 2012 were attributed to poaching. This high rate of illegal killing continues and is occurring across a wide part of Africa, impacting the species as a whole. The main cause of this epidemic is the increasing demand for ivory, particularly in China.
This high rate of elephant poaching not only affects the death rate of these elephants but it also effects the social structure of the elephant population as a whole. For a highly social species, this disruption to their normal behavior can have serious impacts.
For example, I have observed how many young elephants become orphaned when poachers hunt older elephants that have larger tusks (more ivory). These orphaned elephants are left without the benefits of their mothers care and family support and their survival rates decrease as a result.
As one of the first detailed studies concerning the impact of poaching on individual elephants in Africa, I want to use my research to help understand the suite of impacts poaching has on elephants and help find a solution to this problem. My goal is to educate people and create a sense of awareness and a bond between wildlife and society. To learn more about the Samburu elephants project, click here.