Scientists estimate that before European colonization, the elephant population in Africa numbered around 20 million. By 1979, that number was a mere 1.3 million. But now, following the first major study of its scale and kind, the population of elephants living in Africa is estimated to be just over 350,000, CNN reports.
Due primarily to rampant poaching, between 2007 and 2014 the number of elephants in Africa dropped by 30 percent. In some regions, it dropped by more than 75 percent:
"When you think of how many elephants occurred in areas 10 or 20 years ago, it's incredibly disheartening," says [Mike Chase, the lead scientist of the Great Elephant Census].
"Historically these ecosystems supported many thousands of elephants compared to the few hundreds or tens of elephants we counted."
The current rate of species decline is 8 percent, meaning that elephant numbers could halve to 175,000 in nine years if nothing changes, according to the survey — and localized extinction is almost certain.
Even before the census offered proof, scientists calculated that far more elephants were dying than being born. Now the species has reached a tipping point. [CNN]
To reach their conclusions, the team of 90 scientists and 286 crew members spent 10,000 hours over 18 African countries to count the elephants from the air. South Sudan and the Central African Republic were not included in the study results due to armed conflict, nor was Namibia, which refused to release numbers.
"[Elephants] are our living dinosaurs, the romance of a bygone era, and if we can't conserve the African elephants, I'm fearful to think about the fate of the rest of Africa's wildlife," Chase said. Read the full report on the elephant census at CNN.