First Pan-African Elephant Census Reveals Dramatic Decline Due To Poaching


Katy Evans

Katy is Managing Editor at IFLScience where she oversees editorial content from News articles to Features, and even occasionally writes some.

Managing Editor


Over 350,000 elephants were surveyed across 18 countries. EWB

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s depressing findings from the first-ever study on African forest elephant demographics comes the results of the Great Elephant Census (GEC), a three-year study on African savanna elephants. And, sadly, it’s not looking good for them either.

The $7 million dollar census, funded by billionaire philanthropist Paul G. Allen and led by Elephants Without Borders (EWB), set out to do the first pan-African comprehensive survey of savanna elephants.


Worryingly, though not surprisingly, the results – announced today at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii – discovered a 30 percent decline in savanna elephant populations across Africa between 2007 and 2014. That’s a rate of decline of 8 percent per year, primarily due to poaching.

Because elephant populations are usually monitored by individual governments, it was an ambitious undertaking to create the first pan-African census with standardized data collection and validation techniques to ensure reliable and accessible information on a continent-wide scale.

“This was an extraordinary collaboration across borders, cultures, and jurisdictions. We completed a successful survey of massive scale, and what we learned is deeply disturbing,” said Allen, who is the founder of Vulcan, one of the survey’s driving forces, in a statement.

According to the data that was collated into a study published in the journal PeerJ, the GEC covered 463,000 kilometers (288,000 miles), surveying 352,271 elephants (about 93 percent of the total elephant population) across 18 countries, and found that in just seven years roughly one-third of the population – that’s 144,000 elephants – were wiped out directly due to poaching and trafficking of the ivory trade.


Though 84 percent of the population surveyed were sighted in designated legally protected areas, a high number of carcasses were spotted in these areas, meaning poaching is still rampant inside the protected parks. The biggest decrease in numbers occurred in Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia.   

There are some tiny slivers of hope to be grasped at, though. South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, and Malawi were all found to have stable or increasing populations of elephants. The W-Arli-Pendjari – a protected conservation complex spanning Benin, Niger, and Burkina Faso – that contains Africa’s only large elephant population was also found to be stable.

“I am hopeful that, with the right tools, research, conservation efforts and political will, we can help conserve elephants for decades to come,” said Mike Chase, GEC principal investigator of the survey and founder of EWB.

The plan now is that these results can form a baseline that can be used by governments, wildlife groups, and conservation organizations to better coordinate conservation efforts on a larger scale.


“Armed with this knowledge of dramatically declining elephant populations, we share a collective responsibility to take action and we must all work to ensure the preservation of this iconic species,” Allen said.

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