Continent-wide survey reveals massive decline in African savannah elephants


Peer J

Date Published


Michael J. Chase1, Scott Schlossberg1, Curtice R. Griffin2, Philippe J.C. Bouche?3, Sintayehu W. Djene4, Paul W. Elkan5, Sam Ferreira6, Falk Grossman5,7,
Edward Mtarima Kohi8, Kelly Landen1, Patrick Omondi9,
Alexis Peltier10, S.A. Jeanetta Selier11,12 and Robert Sutcliffe1

1 Elephants Without Borders, Kasane, Botswana
2 Department of Environmental Conservation, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA,
United States
3 Department of Biosystems Engineering, Forest Resource Management, Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech, University of Lie?ge, Gembloux, Belgium
4 College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, Haramaya University, Dire Dawa, Ethiopia 5 Africa Program, Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, NY, USA
6 Scientific Services, South African National Parks, Skukuza, South Africa
7 Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation, University of Twente, Enschede,The Netherlands
8 Mahale-Gombe Wildlife Research Centre, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, Kigoma, Tanzania 

9 Division of Species Conservation & Management, Kenya Wildlife Service, Nairobi, Kenya
10 Air Adventures (Africa) Ltd, Nairobi, Kenya
11 Division of Biodiversity Monitoring and Assessment, South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa
12 Amarula Elephant Research Programme, School of Life Sciences, University of Kwa-Zulu-Natal, Durban,South Africa 


African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are imperiled by poaching and habitat loss. Despite global attention to the plight of elephants, their population sizes and trends are uncertain or unknown over much of Africa. To conserve this iconic species, conservationists need timely, accurate data on elephant populations. Here, we report the results of the Great Elephant Census (GEC), the first continent-wide, standardized survey of African savannah elephants. We also provide the first quantitative model of elephant population trends across Africa. We estimated a population of 352,271 savannah elephants on study sites in 18 countries, representing approximately 93% of all savannah elephants in those countries. Elephant populations in survey areas with historical data decreased by an estimated 144,000 from 2007 to 2014, and populations are currently shrinking by 8% per year continent-wide, primarily due to poaching. Though 84% of elephants occurred in protected areas, many protected areas had carcass ratios that indicated high levels of elephant mortality. Results of the GEC show the necessity of action to end the African elephants’ downward trajectory by preventing poaching and protecting habitat.