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WESSA Elephant Initiative

Current situation
There has been an acceleration in the rate at which wild elephant populations are decreasing across Africa, driven by continued illegal ivory poaching and trade. Studies show that every hour four elephants are killed in Africa for their ivory.

Central Africa and East Africa are experiencing extreme levels of poaching, with Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya being current poaching hot-spots that have seen significant decreases in their local populations. West Africa has already lost nearly all its elephants, now having only 1.6% of the continents population.  

Due to poaching pressure further north, Southern Africa is now home to close to 55% of Africa’s elephants compared to 20 years ago where the figure was only 21%.  The threat of illegal killings is, however, already being felt in Southern Africa. 

Elephant tusks are sold on lucrative illegal markets, the predominant consumers being Vietnam, China, the Philippines and the USA. There is even evidence of South Africa being a conduit for ivory exports to Malaysia. 

It is a sad truth that often poor locals are recruited to do the dirty work to supply ivory to transnational syndicates. In some cases - especially in Central and West Africa - militia/terrorist groups are also involved as they use the profits from ivory to fund their wars, which lead to local and regional instability.

What is the concern?
The loss of elephants would be devastating from a humanity and environment perspective. They are termed “megafauna” which paints an apt picture of the importance and the influence that these creatures have on shaping their environment, where their existence is not only for their own benefit but other species too. To lose these majestic animals in the wild would be a tragedy.

What is WESSA doing?
WESSA has been involved in elephant conservation issues for possibly most of its almost 90 year existence. Elephants and their conservation were central to WESSAs successful campaigning for the establishment of the Kruger National Park in 1926 and the Addo Elephant National Park in 1931 (in addition to campaigning for the expansion of the park in 2002).

WESSA is currently working to address the situation by:

  • Implementing the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park Elephant Monitoring Project in partnership with Ezemvelo KZN Widlife to contribute to making available practical elephant management options in the face of the conflicted status of elephants in our country’s reserves.  
  • Raising awareness about wildlife crime and the need for extensive ecosystem conservation by using elephants as a “keystone” species.
  • Raising awareness around elephant poaching and the trade of ivory as a threat to the survival of many elephant populations across Africa. We are also looking to draw on the challenges posed to rhinos and other high-value wildlife which is being traded transnationally by criminal syndicates.
  • Enhancing the values of elephants to humans – supporting sustainable economies.
  • Educating the youth about elephants by sharing knowledge and ideas about the plight of elephants, and what can be done to ensure their survival into the future. The WESSA EnviroKids 4th quarter 2013 Envirokids edition focused purely on elephants with a view to developing the next generation of elephant conservationists. This resource is being republished to serve education purposes beyond South Africa where elephant poaching is a much bigger concern.
  • Calling for areas which are suitable for elephants to re-established populations.


View our African elephant infographic


Help us secure the populations of these majestic animals in the wild, forever, by making a donation to our work.