CITES MIKE Programme reports continued downward trends in elephant poaching in parts of Africa

Geneva, Nairobi, November 16 – The CITES programme for Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) has published its annual report analyzing the continental and sub-regional trends in the proportion of illegally killed elephants, based on data collected by MIKE sites in Africa (1).

In 2020, 58 MIKE sites in 30 African elephant range States submitted data relating to elephant carcasses detected in these sites during 2019.

MIKE Programme Logo

Using data gathered by ranger patrols, the MIKE programme monitors trends in poaching levels based on the Proportion of Illegally Killed Elephants (PIKE). PIKE is an index of poaching pressure, but it is important to take into consideration that it may be affected by potential biases related to data quality, the fact that MIKE sites are not randomly selected, the reporting rate, carcass detection probabilities, and the variation in natural mortality rates across MIKE sites - including increases in natural mortality caused by drought and other factors.

The data set used for this new PIKE trend analysis for Africa consists of 20,712 records of elephant carcasses found between 2003 and the end of 2019.

The continental PIKE trend analysis for Africa shows a general increase from 2003 to 2011, and an overall decrease from 2011 to 2019. The trendline for the unweighted Bayesian GLMM PIKE estimates (MM.P.uw), the new methodology recommended by the MIKE-ETIS Technical Advisory Group for the PIKE analysis, shows that there is sufficient evidence to confirm an upward trend (increase in PIKE) from 2003 to 2011, and a downward trend (decrease in PIKE) from 2011 to 2019. The continental PIKE estimate for 2019 is 0.41 (continental PIKE was 0.54 in 2018). Over the last five years (2015 to 2019), the unweighted continental PIKE estimate shows a downward trend with a level of certainty of more than 95%.

PIKE Estimates 2019
Continental PIKE estimates based on the new Bayesian GLMM approach with results unweighted (MM.p.uw) by elephant population estimate. The error bar or the confidence / credible interval shows the level of uncertainty in the annual PIKE estimates

While the analysis suggests an overall decline in elephant poaching in Africa since 2011, there were significant sub-regional differences: in eastern and southern African MIKE sites, which provided the bulk of the data and host the largest numbers of African elephants, trends were similar in magnitude and range, and it is highly probable that these two subregions contribute disproportionately to the continental downward trend, and are essentially driving the observed continental trend.

It should be noted that the trend in southern Africa remained relatively unchanged between 2015 and 2017, before a downward trend started in 2018 and continued in 2019. The analysis of data for 2020, to be submitted in 2021, will indicate whether this downward trend continues in the subregion.

There is strong evidence of a downward trend in PIKE between 2011 and 2019 in eastern Africa. Between 2012 and 2015, the PIKE trend in eastern Africa remained relatively unchanged, followed by a 2-year downward trend until 2017. The MIKE programme reported in previous years that the subregional PIKE estimate for eastern Africa declined in 2017, largely due to a high number of natural mortalities in MIKE sites in Kenya caused by a major drought. PIKE could be biased downwards if the total carcass count is high because of adverse environmental conditions, such as drought. Under less severe environmental conditions, the 2019 PIKE estimate does not seem to be attributed to increased natural mortalities from these kinds of external factors.  

The trend analysis for central Africa showed that there is strong evidence that the PIKE trend increased from 2003 to 2011 and remained at high levels up to 2019. For west Africa, the high contribution to the total number of carcasses from one single site (Pendjari Biosphere Reserve, Benin) out of 16 MIKE sites, makes inferring a subregional trend difficult.

There are considerable concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on wildlife conservation, including on the ability of wildlife authorities to effectively safeguard and secure protected areas. The analysis of MIKE data collected during 2020 and subsequent years will contribute to monitoring and understanding the potential effects of the pandemic.
In addition to the trend analysis, the CITES MIKE programme will prepare a co-variate analysis for the next meeting of the Conference of the Parties in 2022, which will assess the correlation between various parameters and PIKE levels and trends.

The PIKE trend analysis in this latest MIKE report used a different methodology than the one used to produce the reports to the last three meetings of the Conference of the Parties (2013, 2016 and 2019) and the five previous meetings of the CITES Standing Committee (2012 to 2018). Up to that point, PIKE trends had been calculated using estimated marginal means (LSmeans) of a linear model weighted by the total number of carcasses.

In September 2019, the CITES Secretariat, in collaboration with the MIKE-ETIS Technical Advisory Group (TAG), concluded a review of the models that had been used so far to calculate PIKE trends, recommending that the LSmeans model be replaced by a Bayesian generalized linear mixed model (GLMM) approach, with model results unweighted by elephant population estimates. A technical report on the merits of various PIKE calculation models is available from the CITES-MIKE website.

CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero highlighted the news of the downward trend in poaching across parts of Africa, and the value of long-term monitoring data to inform and support international conservation efforts: "The continued decline in poaching figures shown by the PIKE trend is representative of the enhanced  enforcement efforts and intense conservation initiatives of Parties. If we add to this the findings of the 2020 World Wildlife Crime Report that ivory prices declined in various destination markets due to stricter measures imposed, we see that States’ efforts in deterring this illegal trade are paying off. Continued vigilance to push trends down further, however, remains essential. The treasure trove of data gathered by the hard work of rangers makes an essential contribution in providing decision-makers at both the national and international levels with the information they need to make informed decisions that support the work of frontline actors to stop elephant poaching across MIKE Sites and beyond."

As of 2020, there are 69 MIKE sites in 32 countries in Africa, and 30 sites across 13 States in Asia. Zimbabwe added Hwange National Park to the MIKE network of sites in Africa in 2020 and it is estimated that the 69 MIKE sites hold more than 50% of the African elephant population on the continent. Viet Nam included Yok Don National Park in the MIKE Network in Asia in 2020, improving the representativeness of the Asian elephant population in South East Asia.

The CITES MIKE Programme was established by the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (Harare, 1997). It is managed by the CITES Secretariat, under the oversight of the CITES Standing Committee.
Since implementation began in 2001, the operation of the MIKE Programme in Africa has been possible thanks to the support from range States implementing the programme and submitting data on an annual basis, as well as the generous financial support of the European Union (EU) and other donors, including the Government of Japan.

The MIKE report, a technical report relating to the methodology, aggregated MIKE data, as well as the code for the unweighted Bayesian GLMM analysis can all be accessed on the MIKE page of the CITES website.

Notes:

(1): For Asian MIKE sites, insufficient submission of data means the more recent estimates for the PIKE trend in the region are those the MIKE Programme reported at CoP18, in August 2019. The report does however include the analysis based on the new methodology.

For more information, please contact:

CITES Secretariat: Francisco Pérez (francisco.perezgonzalez [at] cites.org)