African elephants, the largest animals walking the Earth, make it to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List due to persistent poaching and damage to their habitat. Conservationists on Thursday had called for an urgent end to the poaching of the animals to protect them further.
Based on the new assessments by the IUCN, two species of elephants in Africa are under extreme pressure due to poaching for ivory and human encroachment, which has increasingly threatened them with extinction. The destruction of elephant habitats due to expanding land use for agriculture and other activities has also played a key role in contributing to their extinction.
IUCN had previously treated both elephants together as a single species that is "vulnerable" but not endangered.
Africa's savanna elephants found in various habitats had fallen by at least 60 per cent in the last 50 years. According to the Swiss-based body's latest survey, the savanna elephant was "endangered", but the forest elephants on the continent are the particularly hard-hit category as their numbers have fallen by more than 86 per cent over the last three decades. They are now considered a "critically endangered" species, which puts them just a step away from becoming extinct.
About 1.5 million elephants roamed across Africa half a century ago, but as per the large-scale assessment of population numbers in 2016, there were only around 415,000 remaining.
"These are really sharp declines…what this assessment is giving us is an early warning that unless we turn around things, we are likely to (see) these animals go extinct. It is a wake-up call to the entire globe that we are going down a steep terrain, when it comes to...the viability of these elephants," Benson Okita-Ouma of Save the Elephants and the co-chair of the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group said.