These Two Charts Show How China Is Helping Decimate Africa's Elephants

It has long been known that China's voracious appetite for ivory is helping drive a spike in the poaching of African elephants. But until now, it wasn't clear just how bad the problem has become. According to a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, elephants are being killed at a faster rate than the animals can reproduce, and their widespread killing is tearing apart elephant societies.

Researchers led by George Wittemyer of Colorado State University found that elephant killings correlated with the market price of ivory. In 2011, when ivory prices peaked, some 40,000 elephants were killed. Wittemyer's research provides the most comprehensive examination to date of the rate of elephant poaching. Because of poaching's illicit nature, researchers have struggled to compile good data on its full scope. According to his research, between 2010 and 2012, some 6.8 percent of the global elephant population was killed. That amounts to an average of 33,630 elephants per year.

The slaughter of male elephants has had profound consequences for elephant societies. The killing of males in their breeding years poses a threat to the species's future longevity. The researchers add that the widespread killing of males has resulted in "collapsed families and increased numbers of orphans."

This phenomenon can be largely ascribed to China's nearly insatiable demand for ivory. Rising incomes have helped buoy demand for a product seen as a status marker. A huge amount of the ivory seized around the world was destined for China and Hong Kong, and though it is an imperfect measure, it indicates the degree to which the underground ivory market remains concentrated in China. Wittemyer and his researchers illustrate this phenomenon in a striking pair of graphics:


The spike in elephant mortality rates mirrors the rate at which elephants are illegally killed, but as Wittemyer and his colleagues note, the data also provides something of a puzzle: The rate of poaching slowed after their 2011 peak, though the price of ivory stayed high. It’s not entirely clear why. China has been taking measures to restrict the sale of ivory, but it is unclear the degree to which that has helped stem demand.

Photo by CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images


Following Food Import Ban, Russians Are Turning to an Old Soviet Staple

Earlier this month, Russia announced that it would retaliate against Western sanctions by banning the import of a wide variety of foods, from fruits to fish, from Europe, the United States, and other countries that levied sanctions against Russia. As a result, some Russians in Moscow and St. Petersburg are facing decreasing food supplies and rising prices at the checkout line.

Now, in what has become a symbol of the country's defiant stance toward its Western critics, many Russians are turning to an old dietary staple to reduce their dependence on foreign food and show their support for Russian President Vladimir Putin's hard-line stance toward the United States and its allies. Buckwheat -- or grechka, as it is known in Russian -- is a relatively cheap and versatile food that can be used to make porridge and casseroles. And amid tit-for-tat sanctions with the West, many Russians are turning to social media to flaunt their love of the traditional dish and express solidarity with the Kremlin's food sanctions, launched on Aug. 7.

According to the Russian newspaper Kommersant, the price of meat in Moscow has risen 6 percent since the announcement of the import ban. Meanwhile in St. Petersburg, the price of pork is up 23.5 percent, and the price of chicken is up 25.8 percent, during the same period. Russia currently imports about 16 percent of its food, and the country's consumption of meat, fruit, vegetables, and dairy far outpaces its domestic production capacity.

So it's no surprise that Russians are turning to buckwheat -- both because of its symbolism as a staple during Soviet-era shortages and because of its ready availability in grocery stores.

Recipes are also circulating that ostensibly provide more creative and less bland ways to prepare the dish. In Russia, buckwheat is traditionally served with milk or butter. This recipe advises a preparation with onions, garlic, and tomato paste.



But the food wars aren't just affecting Russia. Lithuania and Poland, Russia's western neighbors, have also been hard hit by the Russian ban on imports of fresh fruit and vegetables. In Poland, whose apple farmers rely heavily on exports to Russia, locals have taken to social media to post photos of themselves eating apples and have even launched an apple-a-day-keeps-Putin-away campaign to support Polish farmers.

Photo by OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images