Factbox: Big animals have big poaching problem

Tue Apr 24, 2012 10:26am EDT

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(Reuters) - Here is a look at rhinos, elephants and lions and tiger numbers and some details of the effects of poaching in Africa:

ELEPHANTS:

-- Between 5 million to 10 million African elephants existed in 1930. Less than 1 percent of that number (approximately 600,000) remained in 1989.

-- The continent's overall population of elephants increased after the ban, but an analysis of elephant population data from 1979 to 2007 found that some of the 37 countries in Africa with elephants continued to lose substantial numbers of them. This pattern is largely explained by the presence of unregulated domestic ivory markets in and near countries with declines in elephant populations. The number today is estimated to be close to 450,000.

-- Populations vary widely. Botswana for example has around 150,000 elephants and a human population of 2 million, giving it an elephant-to-people ratio of one to 14 - the highest in Africa. But in several central African countries elephants are highly endangered.

-- CITES recently reported the poaching of close to 450 elephants in Bouba Ndjida National Park in northern Cameroon.

* TRAFFIC REPORT: IVORY TRADE:

-- In 2011 there were at least 13 large-scale seizures, over 800 kg in weight. The weight of these seizures in 2011 amounts to more than 23 tons, a figure that probably represents some 2,500 elephants, possibly more.

-- This compares to six large seizures in 2010, whose total weight was just under 10 tons.

-- 727 ivory pieces were discovered on December 21, 2011, concealed inside a container at the port of Mombasa, Kenya, and destined for Asia.

-- Over the previous 12 months, most large seizures of illicit ivory from Africa have originated from either Kenyan or Tanzanian ports.

* One tusk can weigh over 60kg and is equivalent to £10,000 of raw ivory on the street.

* 500 elephants were killed in Cameroon in 2011 in one single park.

* Most poaching takes place in Africa where two African elephant species live - Loxodonta africana and Loxodonta cyclotis, the second of which was only recognized as its own species in 2010.

-- That is under half of the 1.2 million that were living in the 1970s and the 600,000 that lived when the ivory trade ban was enacted.

-- Data submitted to CITES, the UN body regulating international wildlife trade, shows that law enforcement is poor or non-existent in many Central and West African countries.

-- According to reports, elephants have been slaughtered by hunters from Sudan and Chad in recent weeks. Poached ivory is being exchanged for weapons, cash, and ammunition to support conflicts between neighboring countries.

RHINOS:

-- Of the dozens of species of rhino that once roamed the earth, only five now exist.

-- The staggering decimation of the rhino population is due to poaching, to satisfy the demand for the horn for use in Chinese traditional medicine and as dagger handles.

-- South Africa lost 448 rhinos to poaching in 2011, official government statistics reveal. As of the middle of April, 181 rhinos had been killed in South Africa in 2012, according to official government data. At this rate, more than 600 will be lost to poachers this year compared with 448 in 2011. A decade ago only a handful were being taken.

LIONS:

-- The African lions' numbers are diminishing rapidly due to habitat destruction, persecution by livestock farmers outside of protected areas, and human greed.

-- The willingness of Asians and Westerners to pay handsomely for lion head trophies combined with the urgent need for revenue among African locals means that these great predators are increasingly hunted for sport.

-- There are an estimated 30,000 lions remaining in all of Africa, down from perhaps 200,000 as recently as the 1970s. Numbers have plummeted as Africa's human population has expanded into lion habitat, reduced the numbers of prey animals that lions need to live, and killed lions in order to protect livestock and human lives.

TIGERS:

-- As one of the world's most charismatic species, wild tigers recently have been attracting increasing amounts of attention and conservation funding.

-- Celebrities including actor Leonardo DiCaprio have become involved in trying to save tigers by speaking publicly about their plight, as well as by donating money.

-- However the fact that the skin, bones, and body parts from one tiger are worth tens of thousands of dollars on the Asian black market, the focus on the species has yet to slow its plunge toward extinction. There are now just around 3,000 wild tigers left in the world, down from perhaps 100,000 less than a century ago.

SOURCES: The Cheetah Spot/CITES/Enkosini Wildlife Sanctuary/International Rhino Foundation/African Conservation Foundation/allaboutwildlife.com/www.traffic.org

(Reporting by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit, and Ed Stoddard; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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