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Ivory poaching continues to threaten African elephants. We (1) used criminology theory and literature evidence to generate hypotheses about factors that may drive, facilitate or motivate poaching, (2) identified datasets representing these factors, and (3) tested those factors with strong hypotheses and sufficient data quality for empirical associations with poaching. We advance on previous analyses of correlates of elephant poaching by using additional poaching data and leveraging new datasets for previously untested explanatory variables. Using data on 10 286 illegally killed elephants detected at 64 sites in 30 African countries (2002–2020), we found strong evidence to support the hypotheses that the illegal killing of elephants is associated with poor national governance, low law enforcement capacity, low household wealth and health, and global elephant ivory prices. Forest elephant populations suffered higher rates of illegal killing than savannah elephants. We found only weak evidence that armed conflicts may increase the illegal killing of elephants, and no evidence for effects of site accessibility, vegetation density, elephant population density, precipitation or site area. Results suggest that addressing wider systemic challenges of human development, corruption and consumer demand would help reduce poaching, corroborating broader work highlighting these more ultimate drivers of the global illegal wildlife trade.

Original publication




Journal article


Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences


Royal Society, The

Publication Date