Conservation news

African elephant population declining at 8% per year

Baby african elephants in Kenya. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

  • Elephant populations across Africa’s savannas are plummeting reveals the most comprehensive elephant survey ever conducted.
  • Backed by philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the two-year Great Elephant Census counted 352,271 elephants in 18 elephant range countries.
  • That tally represented a drop of 144,000 elephants relative to 2007.
  • The data-gathering effort was unprecedented, involving 90 scientists, dozens of NGOs and agencies, and scores of aerial surveys.

Elephant populations across Africa’s savannas are plummeting due to poaching for the ivory trade reveals the most comprehensive elephant survey ever conducted.

Backed by philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the two-year Great Elephant Census counted 352,271 elephants in 18 elephant range countries. That tally represented a drop of 144,000 elephants relative to 2007, equivalent to an population decline of eight percent per year. Savanna elephant populations declined by more than 30 percent in 15 of the 18 countries. Elephants were hard hit both inside and outside protected areas.

The data-gathering effort was unprecedented, involving 90 scientists, dozens of NGOs and agencies, and scores of aerial surveys, according to James Deutsch, the conservation director at Vulcan, Paul Allen’s philanthropy.

“This project required a herculean effort on the part of many partners since its launch in December 2013, with 81 airplanes and 286 crew members flying roughly 463,000 kilometers to complete the survey,” said Deutsch.

A map from the African Elephant Atlas showing the areas surveyed during the Great Elephant Census and elephant population densities.
Elephants in South Africa. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Allen, who contributed more than $7 million to the program, called the findings “deeply disturbing”.

“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,” he said. “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.”

The Great Elephant Census found that between 2007 and 2014 the population of savanna elephants in Africa fell by 144,000 or 30 percent.
The elephant population in DRC declined precipitously between 1996 and 2014 according to the study.
Botswana bucked the trend with its savanna elephant population rising between 1996 and 2014 according to the study.

While overall 30 percent drop in savanna elephant population may seem shocking, it may be dwarfed by the reported 60 percent decline in the population of African forest elephants since the early 2000s. Vulcan is now conducting a census of those elephants to better quantify that estimate.