Status of African elephant populations and levels of illegal killing and the illegal trade in ivory: A report to the African Elephant Summit
CITES Secretariat, IUCN / SSC African Elephant Specialist Group, TRAFFIC International
Dec 2013

The IUCN/SSC African Elephant Specialist Group (AfESG) works with the two CITES-mandated elephant
monitoring systems: the programme for Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE), managed by the
CITES Secretariat, and the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), managed by TRAFFIC, to bring
together updated and critical information and data on elephants, poaching and the illegal ivory trade in an
integrated manner. Consolidated reports, including inputs on Asian elephants from the IUCN/SSC Asian
Elephant Specialist Group, on legal ivory trade by UNEP-WCMC, and implementation of the African
Elephant Action Plan, have been provided to the 61st and 62nd meeting of the Standing Committee to
CITES. These updates, along with the 2013 report, “Elephants in the Dust” have provided
comprehensive and up to date information to elephant conservationists, managers, and policy makers.

This update includes data from 2012 on elephant populations, levels of illegal killing, and levels of illegal
trade in ivory.

Executive Summary
The results of this analysis show that levels of poaching and the illegal ivory trade started to increase
again in the mid-2000s, following an easing in the 1990s, the rate of increase jumping dramatically from
2009. The overall trend appears to be leveling off in 2012 compared to 2011, but at an unsustainably high
The MIKE analysis suggests that 15,000 elephants were illegally killed at the 42 monitored MIKE sites in
2012. The estimated poaching rate of 7.4% in 2012 remains at an unsustainably high level, as it exceeds
natural population growth rates (usually no more than 5%). Likewise, the ETIS analysis shows a slight
leveling off in the bias-adjusted trend for illegal ivory in 2012. However, a number of countries have not
yet reported their 2012 seizures.
The overall weight and number of large-scale ivory seizures (more than 500kg) in 2013 exceeds any
previous year in the ETIS data. These data have not been bias-adjusted, and the increase may reflect
enhancement of law enforcement effort, or could signify an increase in overall levels of illegal trade. With
the high levels of poaching being observed through the MIKE programme, the amount of illegal ivory in
trade should be expected to remain high.
Poverty and weak governance in elephant range States, together with demand for illegal ivory in
consuming nations, are the three key factors identified by repeated MIKE analyses, including this one, as
being most strongly associated with observed poaching trends.

Monitoring of elephant populations, apart from at a few well-monitored sites, is sporadic and inconsistent.
The low precision of most estimates makes it difficult to detect any immediate repercussion on elephant
numbers in the short-term but this does not mean there are no changes.

While it remains to be seen whether the situation is stabilizing, it is clear that international cooperation on
law enforcement and public awareness is vital. Improved monitoring is also essential to allow informed
decision-making. There is a need for continued and improved reporting to the MIKE and ETIS
programmes, as well as improved and more frequent monitoring of elephant populations, including
carcass counts wherever possible. The new annual reporting requirement for CITES Parties to provide
information on national ivory stockpiles will also provide much-needed information.

Click here for the full report: