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Will African Elephants Be Extinct in Ten Years?

If you watched the National Geographic special Battle for the Elephants on PBS last night, you’re probably concerned about the fate of one of Africa’s greatest natural treasures—and with good reason. Last year was devastating for elephants across Africa, with poaching-related deaths estimated to be at least 25,000. A rate that some experts say, if left unchecked, could lead to the extinction of the African elephant by 2020.

So far, 2013 is off to a terrifying start. In early January, the global community was outraged when Kenyan officials discovered an entire family of 11 brutally slaughtered elephants in Tsavo National Park. Yet, the market for ivory continues to expand, fueling sophisticated, well-armed gangs and militias that often overpower the efforts of local government and conservation groups.

Whole families of elephants have been killed by poachers in East Africa. Photo: Jennifer Winter

If the experts are right, we have fewer than 10 years before poachers have eliminated African elephants from the wild. It’s no surprise that governments and conservation groups alike are banding together to find solutions to save these majestic creatures. On March 3, the U.S. and 176 countries, all members of an international agreement to protect animal and plant species, will meet in Bangkok to negotiate a renewed ban on the ivory trade.

The current ban, which was enacted in 1989, was initially successful in curbing illegal trade of ivory, and elephant populations slowly recovered from rampant poaching in the 1980s. But later amendments to the agreement allowed “one-off” sales of stockpiled ivory to Japan and China. The sudden influx of legal ivory created high demand in Asia and sparked a new rush for illegal ivory. Many representatives who will attend the Bangkok conference hope they can reinstate the full ban on ivory trade.

While Battle for the Elephants might not be easy to watch, its message is clear: time is running out for the African elephant. Global organizations, including Aid for Africa members Wildlife Conservation Network  and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy are working with communities and governments in Africa to save the elephants. These efforts, together with those of the countries attending the Bangkok conference, suggest our elephant friends just might stand a chance.

What can you do to help save the African elephant? Help ensure that that the world is talking about this horrific genocide by: