The illegal ivory trade is reported to result in tens of thousands of elephant deaths each year across Africa, for the sole purpose of making trinkets and other luxury items sold in the Far East, USA and elsewhere. These status symbols are under increasing demand due to the growing affluence in countries such as China.
This trade has been cited as the most dire threat facing the African elephant and its repercussions, other than direct population decline, are all too often overlooked. Removing the dominant bull in an area can have far reaching consequences for many years to come. Without the dominant and controlling influence of these individuals the younger males can become overly aggressive and sexually charged which can result in reduced reproductive success. Targeting the larger tusked females in a herd, often the matriarch, can greatly reduce survival and reproductive success amongst the remaining females and juveniles who are reliant on the matriarch’s knowledge of water and food sources for survival.
Habitat loss reduces elephants’ ability to roam as far as may be necessary to look for food and water and therefore not only limits the population size due to home range restriction but also through resource limitation. This increasing use of savannah and forest habitats for human agriculture also brings humans and elephants into ever increasing contact; this is turn increases the incidences of conflict, resulting in additional elephant and even human deaths. This is the greatest threat facing Asian elephants today.