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Photo: Jon Mountjoy / Flickr

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect Africa’s two gravely imperiled elephant species as “endangered.” Unprecedented poaching for ivory and accelerating habitat loss has decimated both savannah and forest elephant populations over the past decade.

“If the current rate of poaching persists, savannah elephants could be extinct in roughly two decades and forest elephants long before that,” said Tanya Sanerib, a senior attorney at the Center. “Only by recognizing the true, endangered status of the two species of African elephants can we highlight and address elephants’ plight and threats.”

An African savannah elephant. (Photo: Bernard Dupont / Flickr)

An African savannah elephant. (Photo: Bernard Dupont / Flickr)

Today’s notice of intent to sue follows a June 2015 petition filed by the Center asking the Fish and Wildlife Service to recognize forest elephants and savannah elephants as separate species. The petition also sought endangered status for both smaller, western African “forest” elephants and larger “savannah” elephants found in eastern, central and southern Africa. Species designated as “endangered” receive the greatest protections under the Endangered Species Act, including a ban on most imports and sales.

According to a new study, most ivory currently being traded is from recently poached elephants. This is bad news for both forest and savannah species. Populations of forest elephants are quite small and have been decimated by poaching. A recent study on forest elephants found they reproduce slowly, which means they cannot readily bounce back from the poaching crisis. Meanwhile a survey of savannah elephants conducted over the past couple of years — known as the “great elephant census” — revealed that only roughly 375,000 savannah elephants remain across the continent. The census results also documented the loss of 140,000 elephants over seven years due to poaching.

Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a treaty governing wildlife trade, recently agreed to work to close down domestic ivory markets contributing to the poaching crisis and to address ivory stockpiles. Pressure is mounting in the European Union and United Kingdom to develop such measures.

“Now is the time for the United States to lead on protecting elephants by recognizing the two African species as separate and protecting them as endangered,” said Sanerib. “People love elephants, and a world without them would be a very sad place.”

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