For visitors to Southern Africa, elephants have long been synonymous with the expansive savannah of that region. With a rise in poaching throughout the area, however, the elephant population of the continent has been dwindling at a rapid rate.
Approximately 30 percent of Africa’s elephants have been killed in the past seven years and around one half of the remaining population is projected to be dead in the next decade, according to new data from the Great Elephant Census, released by CNN.
The non-profit conservation group Elephants Without Borders conducted the census, in which scientists used low-flying planes to count the number of elephants in Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the surrounding region.
"I don't think anybody in the world has seen the number of dead elephants that I've seen over the last two years," Mike Chase, elephant ecologist and architect of the survey, told CNN.
Botswana, which has long been considered a safe haven for refugee elephant populations, has begun to lose that reputation as poachers have been drawn to the elephant-dense region. Chase counted 20 dead elephants in a small region of Botswana in just two days, according to the same CNN report.
Each year, approximately 30,000 elephants are killed, and the African elephant could soon be locally extinct in some places, such as in parts of Cameroon.
For experts in the field, these results are sadly unsurprising.
“The poaching of elephants for ivory has gone uncontrolled, or barely controlled, for a number of years,” Deborah Olson, executive director of the International Elephant Foundation, told Travel + Leisure.
And conservation of this species should be important to everyone, not just-elephant lovers, according to Olsen.
“They are a keystone species,” she said, noting how they prevent the savannahs from becoming overgrown, while also distributing seeds in their fecal matter. “They’re just so important to the environment.”