African elephants are listed as threatened under the American Endangered Species Act because the species is at risk of extinction due to poaching for their tusks, which are sold on the black market. In addition, the African elephant population is at risk due to loss of habitat when mankind moves into the elephant's range.
African elephants have been hunted for their tusks for centuries. The tusks of the elephant are prized for use in jewelry making and ivory carving. The demand for ivory was so vast in the years leading up to the elephant's status as a threatened species that the population declined immensely. Nonetheless, after enjoying 10 years of protection, the population continued to decline, and by 1990, it was reduced by around half. This further decline led to the U.S. Congress' passing the African Elephant Conservation Act, which made it illegal to bring ivory into the United States from elsewhere under all but the strictest limited conditions.
Estimates hold that in 2011 alone, one out of 12 African elephants were poached to satisfy the demand for ivory. From 2010 through 2012, an estimated 100,000 African elephants were poached, taking the species' estimated population from 1.3 million elephants in 1979 to an estimated 472,000 to 690,000 in 2012.