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Tuesday, 12 December, 2000, 03:24 GMT
Asian elephants 'cling to survival'
elephants in water
Asia's elephants are engulfed by a tide of human pressures
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Asian elephants are hard-pressed to withstand the increasing human pressures they face, conservationists say.

WWF, the global environment network, says the species is "clinging to survival", with drastically depleted numbers.

It identifies poaching for the ivory trade as one of the main threats to the elephants' wellbeing. And it believes developed countries should help the countries with elephants to conserve them properly.

In a report, Asian elephants in the wild, Elizabeth Kemf and Charles Santiapillai of WWF say the species numbers between 35,000 and 50,000 animals, about 10% of Africa's elephant population.

Human conflict

In 1997, Sri Lanka lost 126 elephants in clashes with humans, from an estimated total of about 4,000 animals.

decorated elephants
Ceremonial Indian elephants at Jaipur
"Most of the elephants are being squeezed into increasingly smaller woodland areas", Elizabeth Kemf said. "The elephant, a loveable animal for the world at large, has become a menace for many living in its territory."

The report says elephants are being forced out of the forests by logging, agricultural clearance and development schemes, and movements of human populations have led to fatal clashes.

Because forest clearance and farming disrupts their traditional migration routes, hungry elephants raiding crops kill hundreds of people annually, WWF says, with up to 300 deaths in India alone.

Domestic trade

In response, it says, the animals face being shot by farmers, poisoned by plantation workers, and killed for their meat, hides and tusks.

Elizabeth Kemf told BBC News Online: "When large numbers of people move into forested areas occupied by elephants and other species, the newcomers are not used to living with wildlife.

"So they find their crops and homes damaged, and their lives at risk. There is also a problem because of the domestic trade in ivory and other elephant products.

"The Asian elephant is listed on Appendix One of Cites, the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Law enforcement

"That means it can't be traded across frontiers. But there's nothing to stop elephant products being bought and sold within the countries where they live. The problem is enforcing the laws that exist, so that the elephants are protected properly.

Elephant road sign
Elephants cross: Sign at Angkor Wat, Cambodia
"Cambodia and Vietnam are two countries where enforcement needs to be stepped up. The estimated number of elephants there has plummeted from what it was a decade ago - from 2,000 to 400 in Cambodia, and in Vietnam from more than 1,500 to under 150."

One report from Cambodia earlier this month said "dozens" of elephants were being killed by poachers, who were alleged to include soldiers, police and officials.

It said six elephants killed by poachers had been found in the Cardamom mountains. One conservationist said the species could be close to the minimum biologically viable population there.

Sex imbalance

WWF says richer governments "have a duty to give technical and financial aid to tackle some of these urgent problems".

It says ivory poaching (only the males have tusks) is severely affecting the sex ratio in some areas, especially in southern India, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The elephants' range originally extended from Syria and Iraq in the west to the Yellow River in China.

Now, WWF says, "it is only found from India to Vietnam, with a tiny besieged population in the extreme south-west of China's Yunnan province".

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See also:

25 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Lives of neglect and misery
07 Oct 99 | Asia-Pacific
Landmine elephant's steps to recovery
06 May 99 | South Asia
Elephant dies of grief
30 Dec 98 | Asia-Pacific
Thailand's elephants sick and abandoned
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