PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Are elephants on the verge of extinction?

Experts say nearly 100 elephants die every day, far more than are born.

“Kind of died off for a while, but now they have realized poaching has increased, so they are getting back on top of it again and I think really making some good strides,” said Willie Theison with the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.

The poachers target the giant African elephant, specifically for the ivory in their tusks. That is why the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is backing an initiative called 96 Elephants, signifying the number that are killed every day for the ivory trade.

“This is the first collaborative effort between zoos all across the country to really try to get the word out and to really do something because the situation is really critical,” said Dr. Barbara Baker with the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.

Ivory is a hot seller in China and Vietnam. With their rapidly growing economies, demand for ivory has spiked and the elephant population has taken a huge hit. In the early ‘80s, there were 1.2 million elephants in Africa — today, about 450,000.

“People are going in with huge rifles and flying in in a helicopter and shooting a whole herd, cutting off the ivory, taking it away and you know and leaving the animals there,” Baker said.

While poaching is definitely a worldwide problem, it is much more of an issue among the African elephant population. That’s because both the male and the female in that species have tusks which can be harvested for ivory.

“The first thing we’ve got to do is stop the demand,” Baker said. “We’ve got to stop the demand for that ivory. When people stop buying the product — when people stop buying the ivory, the poaching will die.”

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