Poachers Killed 100,000 Elephants In Three Years, Biologist Reports On Reddit Science AMA

Poaching continues to be one of the biggest environmental concerns of the decade. A recent study by Colorado State University biologist George Wittemyer found that at least 100,000 elephants were killed in three years, the biggest poaching numbers reported in recent times.

Wittemyer has spent 16 years of his career studying and taking care of elephants in Africa, all of which used to be in great danger of meeting their demise through human greed and primitive superstition. Poachers typically hunt elephants for their tusks, a “commodity” they sell to traditional medicine merchants as “alternative” healing supplements. None of these medications have been approved by respectable medical or scientific organizations.


The scientist visited /r/science to discuss elephants and the current efforts involved in preserving and maintaining their habitat.

Here are a few questions answered:

Redditor 1m2n asked:

Professor Wittemyer:

What are your views on elephant hunting licenses/permits? I understand they cost tens of thousands of dollars, and this money is used specifically to prevent extinction of elephants (or other hunted animals)…

Does ethical elephant hunting have an advantageous side to it? Thanks

Dr. Wittemyer answered:

Hunting when done with rigorous management and scientifically based quotas will not cause a decline in the population. When hunting a highly social species like elephants, one needs to be very aware of the repercussions of hunting on the social system

Redditor atchafalaya asked:

Is the rate rising or falling now, what’s being done about it, how many elephants are left, how many years will we still have elephants in the wild if this continues, where in Africa is this happening, and is it tied to a particular set of events like the war in Congo.

I think that’s about it.

The professor’s answer:

The rate of illegal killing looks like it has stabilized, but remains unsustainable. What we are finding is that some populations are doing well, even increasing, where they are adequately protected. But 3/4 are declining, and are under serious threat.

A coalition of very active conservationists are working very closely with governments to deal with this issue on the ground, but they and the nations fighting to keep elephants need more support.

Also, there are really critical efforts occurring in China to tackle the demand side. These effort are critical!

Another user, kaymac01 asked:

Prof Wittemyer, thanks for contributing yr time on this.

My question is about whether the 100,000 deaths represent a huge uptick in the rate of killing or not. If so, what has changed out there? Is there an economic lever we can push to make the killing unprofitable?

Doctor George answered:

Yes, we must decrease demand. The killing simply follows the demand driven pricing

George Wittemyer’s whole AMA can be found here.

[Image from Benh LIEU SONG]