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PeerJ. 2016 Aug 31;4:e2354. doi: 10.7717/peerj.2354. eCollection 2016.

Continent-wide survey reveals massive decline in African savannah elephants.

Author information

Elephants Without Borders , Kasane , Botswana.
Department of Environmental Conservation, University of Massachusetts Amherst , Amherst , MA , United States.
Department of Biosystems Engineering, Forest Resource Management, Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech, University of Liège , Gembloux , Belgium.
College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, Haramaya University , Dire Dawa , Ethiopia.
Africa Program, Wildlife Conservation Society , Bronx , NY , USA.
Scientific Services, South African National Parks , Skukuza , South Africa.
Africa Program, Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, NY, USA; Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation, University of Twente, Enschede, The Netherlands.
Mahale-Gombe Wildlife Research Centre, Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute , Kigoma , Tanzania.
Division of Species Conservation & Management, Kenya Wildlife Service , Nairobi , Kenya.
Air Adventures (Africa) Ltd , Nairobi , Kenya.
Division of Biodiversity Monitoring and Assessment, South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa; 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.


Aerial survey; African elephant; Carcass ratio; Conservation; Loxodonta africana; Population decline; Population trend; Protected areas

Conflict of interest statement

Michael J. Chase is the Founder of Elephants Without Borders, and Elephants Without Borders managed the Great Elephant Census which generated the data in this article. Michael J. Chase, Scott Schlossberg, Paul W. Elkan, Falk Grossman, Kelly Landen, and Robert Sutcliffe either currently work for or, while conducting this research, were supported by nongovernmental organizations that sometimes engage in advocacy for wildlife conservation. Alexis Peltier is an employee of Air Adventures, Nairobi, Kenya.

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