Kenyan conservationists are worried that the burgeoning demand for ivory will undo years of work getting the country’s elephant population to healthy numbers.
Wildlife officials say that a survey of an elephant sanctuary from an aerial census showed that growth had slowed to two percent from four percent in 2008, AFP reports.
Scientists counted 12,572 elephants in Tsavo National Park, an 18,000-square mile elephant sanctuary southeast of Nairobi. While that number is only slightly below the previous count of 11,696, it represents a weakening population growth rate, says Julius Kipng’etich, the director of the Kenya Wildlife Service.
Kipng’etich said elephant poaching was becoming increasingly prominent following increased ivory demand in Asian countries.
Ian Douglas-Hamilton, the founder of the organization Save the Elephants, told AFP that rising wealth in Asia was partly to blame.
“I am exceedingly worried about the increase in poaching because I think it is linked to a more fundamental factor which is the increase in demand in China and other countries in the Far East and the increased ability in those countries to pay for ivory,” he told AFP.
Ivory is used in traditional Asian medicines and ornaments.
Tsavo, home to a third of Kenya’s elephant population, boasted some 35,000 elephants in 1976, AFP reports. A major drought and poaching in the 1970s and 1980s all but decimated their numbers.