A new study tallying the African elephant population has made a stark finding: If poaching continues at its current rate, the animal may be extinct in a century, the BBC reports. "We are shredding the fabric of elephant society and exterminating populations across the continent," says the study's lead author. Essentially, poachers are killing elephants faster than new births can keep up. That's because about 2 pounds of ivory from their tusks is worth thousands of dollars on the black market, and it's in high demand among China's growing middle class; they use it for trophies, medicine, and food, adds the Smithsonian. The numbers are shocking: Poachers killed 100,000 elephants in Africa from 2010 to 2012; illegal deaths now comprise 65% of the total population loss. Roughly 400,000 elephants are believed to remain in Africa, the AP reports.
Counting live elephants and poaching deaths is difficult, and the new numbers aren't exact. They are based on a combination of population and death counts from a number of localized elephant monitoring programs; those numbers were expanded to the population at large using statistical analysis, Smithsonian explains. The numbers aren't terrible across the entire continent: The highest rates are in central and east Africa, while populations are doing well in Botswana. This bright spot gives researchers hope for the future—some think elephants can survive another poaching spike like they did in the 1970s and '80s. "I have to be an optimist. I've been through all of this before … I believe we can do it again," says the founder of one conservation group. (People are also eating the scaly anteater into extinction.)