African elephants living in forests and savannas are increasingly threatened with extinction, according to the latest Red List of the world’s most threatened species, with conservationists stepping up calls for an urgent end to poaching and the destruction of the elephants’ habitat.
The new assessments by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) published on Thursday underscore the persistent pressures faced by the two species of African elephants, which are now listed as either “critically endangered” or “endangered”.
“We must urgently put an end to poaching and ensure that sufficient suitable habitat for both forest and savannah elephants is conserved,” said Bruno Oberle, the IUCN director- general.
Oberle sounded the alarm even as he also praised some African countries for their work in trying to reverse the decline.
The Switzerland-based body’s latest survey said the savanna elephant was “endangered” and the much smaller, lighter forest elephant was “critically endangered” – only one step away from becoming extinct in the wild.
Before the latest Red List update, African elephants were treated as a single species, listed as “vulnerable”. But following the emergence of new genetic evidence, the two species have been categorised separately for the first time.
The IUCN cited data showing that the populations of Africa’s savanna elephants found in a variety of habitats had fallen by at least 60 percent over the last 50 years while the number of forest elephants – found mostly in Central Africa – had dropped by 86 percent over 31 years.
Combined, only approximately 415,000 African elephants remain, it said.
Both species suffered sharp declines since 2008 due to a significant increase in poaching, which peaked in 2011 but continues to threaten populations, the report said.
Despite the overall decline, some populations of forest elephants were rebounding due to conservation efforts by countries such as Gabon and the Republic of Congo.
BREAKING NEWS: African elephant species now Endangered and Critically Endangered – IUCN Red List
— IUCN Red List (@IUCNRedList) March 25, 2021
“Anti-poaching measures on the ground, together with more supportive legislation and land-use planning which seeks to foster human-wildlife coexistence, have been key to successful elephant conservation,” the report said.
In Southern Africa’s Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, savanna elephant numbers were also stable or growing, IUCN said.
“While the results of the assessment place the continental population of savanna elephants in the endangered category, it is important to keep in mind that at a site level, some sub-populations are thriving,” said Dave Balfour, IUCN’s assessor of the African elephants.
IUCN’s latest assessment – the first of three annual updates – assessed 134,425 species of plants, fungi and animals of which more than a quarter are threatened with extinction.
Barney Long of the Global Wildlife Conservation said the regular assessment of the status of species helps in highlighting “worrying trends” including the status of elephants.
“The health of our planet depends on the health of elephants and the ecosystems they inhabit,” he said.