African elephants: Even more endan­gered than expected

According to a new study elephants are even more endangered than expected. The "Elephant Census" reveals valuable information. Learn more about it in our blog

Elefantenherde zieht in der Savanne Afrikas umher

Regarding a new study elephants are even more endangered than expected. The so-called Elephant Census gives insightful information about the current population and spreading of elephants. This kind of data collection is the first within the last 40 years. The data collected provide useful information for the protection of elephants and are able to help the government, economists, NGOs and other representatives of conservation organizations to make better decisions.

Aim of the census:

The Elephant Census should help to collect exact and current data and information regarding population and spreading of the African elephant. More and more elephants suddenly disappear from the screen. Human beings and – to be exact – mainly poachers and consumers of ivory pose a great threat to the population of elephants. But also waxing loss of living space, human conflicts and climate change are factors, which have a negative effect on the spreading of elephants. 30 years ago about 1.3 billion elephants were counted on the African continent. The number dropped ongoing in the course of time.

Karawane der afrikanischen Elefanten
Artenschutz: Afrikanische Elefantenherde

Method of the census:

The counting of elephants was made possible by a standardized data collection under the project Great Elephant Census. Data was collected in small airplanes. In the airplanes, it was possible to gather information about elephants but also about elephant cadavers. The information about cadavers and skeletons were collected to make statements about poaching. The census was applied in 18 countries by national parks and their employees. The whole thing was supported by NGOs, a total of 90 scientists and 286 specialists, all employed and coordinated by Vulcan. Vulcan Productions is a company which tries to bring important topics like environmental protection and nature conservation close to public by visual media. Mike Chase from the organization Elephants Without Borders was the main investigator of the project. Developers of Vulcan generated a centralized data system to record and evaluate collected raw data as fast as possible.

Results of the census:

352.271 elephants were counted in all 18 observed countries. The elephant population in Africa therefore decreased by 30% between 2007 and 2014; this is equal to a number of approx. 144.000 elephants. With that said, the elephant population decreases by 8% each year, mainly caused by poaching. 84% of the elephants were found in protected regions, the rest of 16% were found in non-protected regions. The fact, that elephant skeletons were found mainly in protected regions, stresses the danger of elephants being endangered in both regions.

The concept of Great Elephant Census was developed by Paul G. Allen and Elephants Without Borders. It is supported by other organizations locally and worldwide. Important partners are SANParks, Frankfurter Zoologische Gesellschaft, The Nature Conservancy and Wildlife Conservation Society.

Artenschutz im suedlichen Afrika: Elefanten

Differences between the countries

Africa is a continent of great differences. Each country has its own geographical, social and economic characteristics. Because of these unique features, every country has different factors which affect the elephant population in a negative or positive way.


At the moment Botswana is one of the fastest growing economies worldwide. In Botswana the worldwide biggest population of elephants can be found and the government is very successful protecting these animals. In 2014 Botswana founded the Elephant Protection Initiative with the intention to put an end to ivory trade. Nevertheless, Botswana faces a lack of solutions and regulations which help population and nature in the same amount.


Kenya has the biggest economy in east and central Africa and since 1980 the population is constantly growing, being the biggest increase worldwide ever since. As a result, the country often faces problems with protected areas and urban population. In 1980, many elephants were killed in Kenya, also in Uganda and Tanzania. After ivory trade was forbidden and stricter park regulations were issued, the elephant population was able to recover. Kenya tries to please the needs of human beings and elephants equally. In 2016, the government burned great masses of ivory.


In Zimbabwe the elephant population cannot be controlled by government due to economic instability and decreasing tourism. Three successive droughts did their bad on the elephants. Moreover, the droughts provoked more conflicts between human being and animals, which dealt with the question if elephants should be executed. But the greatest threat to elephants in Zimbabwe are still the poachers.

You would like to contribute to the protection of the gentle giants? As an elephant volunteer in a volunteer project in Africa you can become active in elephant conservation though applied research and protection measures.

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