Nairobi, July 2 – Although initial research suggested otherwise, poaching of African elephants has not decreased since 2011 in western, southern, and central Africa, according to a new study by the conservation charity Elephants Without Borders.

Eastern Africa is the only region where poaching has declined, according to the report, a summary of which was carried by the ZME Science journal.

Beginning around 2007, a wave of poaching for ivory affected populations of savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana) and forest elephants (L. cyclotis) across Africa. The total population of savannah elephants decreased by 30 per cent between 2007 and 2015. In some countries, elephant populations declined by over 50 per cent in under 10 years.

Recent reports, however, indicated that elephant poaching may be abating. Since 2016, some African parks have reported reductions or even a halt in elephant poaching. Likewise, global ivory prices appear to have peaked and may have begun to fall, perhaps as a result of bans on ivory sales.

In the new study, Elephants Without Borders (EWB) with the University of Washington applied a novel statistical technique to analyze poaching data from the Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) Program. They found poaching reduced only in Eastern Africa in recent years, dismissing previous estimations.

Lead author Dr Scott Schlossberg, an analyst with EWB, said in a statement: “Reports of falling poaching rates in Africa are something of an illusion. Regionally, elephant poaching is decreasing only in Eastern Africa. For the rest of the continent, poaching rates are still near their peak and have changed little since 2011.”

The MIKE programme is administered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a multilateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals. At MIKE sites, rangers record the number of elephant carcasses they find. The proportion of those carcasses that were killed illegally was used as the measure of poaching rates in the new study.

The researchers said central and western Africa are the areas of more concern regarding poaching. In western Africa, remaining elephants are mostly in small and scattered, which makes it difficult to withstand poaching. Central Africa is the home of the African forest elephant, a species that has experienced severe losses.

“The poachers are not easing up their efforts, so the countries of Africa and supporters of elephants around the world need to keep up the fight against poaching. We have already lost over 100,000 elephants to poaching since 2007. Reducing poaching should be a top priority of conservationists,” said the report’s co-author Michael Chase of EWB.

While they described the reduction in poaching in East Africa as “real and laudable,” the researches said governments and conservationists should not let that improvement influence their outlook on what is happening in the rest of the continent. Poaching levels in central and western Africa are “unsustainable” and more vigilance and anti-poaching efforts are needed, according to the report.