Elephant Poaching
A herd of elephants stands near a water hole in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, about 840 kilometers (522 miles) east of Harare, Sept. 27, 2013. Poachers in Zimbabwe and neighboring Mozambique are decimating the region's elephant population, to meet rising demand for ivory from buyers in China. Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

Poachers are decimating Mozambique’s elephant population, in an effort to fuel ever-increasing demand from China for the contraband material. New data shows that 48 percent of all the elephants in the country were killed by poachers in the past five years, and the government is scrambling to stop it.

According to data from the Mozambican government and the U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the country’s elephant population has fallen from 20,000 to just 10,300 in the past five years.

“Criminals have taken a staggering toll on Mozambique’s wildlife and natural resources,” said Christian Samper, head of the WCS, in a statement. “But I am hopeful that the Government of Mozambique, working with partners in the NGO and development community, as well as neighboring nations, will bring criminals to justice so elephants can thrive once again here.”

Incidents of poaching in Africa have been on the rise in recent years thanks to increased demand for materials such as ivory and rhinoceros horn -- which are worth more per kilogram than cocaine on the black market. The illicit global trade is largely fueled by booming demand in China, where these materials have long been used to make artistic and religious artifacts and even in types of traditional medicines. Globally, trade in illegal wildlife products is worth $10 billion, according to Chatham House.

In Mozambique, particularly, poachers are most active in the country’s remote border areas, which are difficult to patrol but home to important wildlife habitats. Roughly 95 percent of the total losses occurred in national parks and reserves in this area.

Mozambique’s minister for land, environment and rural development has made tackling ivory and rhino horn trafficking a priority and employs the country’s environmental police to work with conservation scouts to implement the laws. Officials will also work with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or Cites, to create a national inventory of all ivory stocks and transparent audit system.

“This survey shows just how grave the situation is and why further efforts to enforce the law and support the local communities are so urgent to ensure the elephant’s survival in Mozambique,” said Joanna Kuenssberg, British High Commissioner to Mozambique, in a statement. “Only through effective international collaboration across the board can the alarming trend of destruction be reversed,” she said.

On Monday, Mozambique signed an agreement with neighboring Tanzania to strengthen cross-border collaboration to solve the problem. Tanzanian officials also conducted their own survey, the results of which will be released on June 1.