This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

PopQuiz: What Does Infant Mortality Have to Do With Elephant Poaching?

The illegal killing of elephants in order to have ivory from their tusks has been on the increase in sub-Saharan Africa, as pointed out in a Reuters story today:
Demand for ivory - used for carvings and valued for millennia for its color and texture - has been rising sharply in newly affluent Asian countries, notably China, fuelling a new wave of elephant slaughter.
Following a decline in the 1990s, poaching of the world's largest land mammal has risen dramatically and in 2012 an estimated 15,000 elephants were illegally killed at 42 sites in Africa monitored by MIKE - the U.N.-backed program for Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants.
Since 2010, elephant poaching levels in Africa have exceeded 5 percent of the total population - a tipping point because killings are now outpacing the animals' birth rate.
The link to infant mortality (among humans, not elephants) comes from the fact that high infant mortality is a proxy for poverty, and it is in those parts of Africa where infant mortality is highest that poaching is also highest...
... but poor villagers typically do not benefit from the illicit ivory trade. In this regard, the ivory trade - with its long and blood-stained history - is similar to other extractive industries in Africa, which have been exploited to meet demand elsewhere with few rewards for local people. 
The story points out that the idea of "Africa Rising" may be a little misleading. Africa being exploited might come closer to the truth. The demographic connection is nonetheless intriguing. China's rapid drop in fertility allowed it to have a demographic dividend that it has used to increase incomes for at least a segment of the population, driving demand for exotic goods. In the meantime, high birth rates in sub-Saharan Africa contribute to high mortality and low levels of living, leaving people politically powerless to protect their resources from outsiders seeking to engage in unlawful activity. 

Note that elephants also have a fairly high level of infant and child mortality, so illegal killing of adults is, as mentioned above, a real threat to survival. A recent study of the demographics of elephants suggests that one-third of deaths among wild elephants in Africa may be due to illegal killing. 

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