Accompanied by the hum of the engine and the click of the camera, Great Elephant Census surveyors flew methodical grids over some of Africa's most beautiful landscapes, and counted every elephant in sight.
This was no small undertaking. Since 2013, over 800 hours have been flown across 136,240 km in 279 individual flights. No two flights recorded the same experience due to the incredible diversity of the African continent. From the rolling grasslands of the iconic Tsavo to the the verdant mountains of Virunga, African savanna elephants are highly mobile, and are distributed across 37 countries in a wide array of ecosystems. Surveyors in Zimbabwe had an entirely different view from those flying in Ethiopia. Not only different landscapes, but diverse fauna were observed from the air. Fifty two mammal species, 7 bird species, and 1 reptile (crocodiles) were recorded by surveyors.
The Great Elephant Census with the help of its partners secured permission to fly, count and record elephants in 21 of the 37 countries where these elephants live, and as of January 1, completed over 50% of targeted flights in 11 of 21 countries across 80% of the known savanna elephant range. This massive pan-Africa survey, the likes of which has not been seen in 40 years, was the result of close collaboration with conservation partners including Elephants Without Borders, African Parks, Wildlife Conservation Society, Frankfurt Zoological Society, South African Parks, United Nations Development Programme and independent contractors.
Countries flown include Botswana, Tanzania, South Africa, Mozambique, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Next up, aerial survey manager Dr. Paul Elkan of the WCS will direct flights in Cameroon. You can learn more about Dr. Elkan's other flight experiences in South Sudan in his recent Reddit AMA.
The after the Census data undergoes a rigorous validation process, the pan-African results will be shared with the elephant conservation community and submitted to scientific journals for publication. The Census will provide conservation groups and government wildlife authorities with an accurate estimate to help inform protection and conservation plans. Every aspect of the Census requires meticulous steps in order to guarantee accuracy, which contributes to the time it takes to complete such a daunting but important task. The Great Elephant Census team hopes to submit the report to reputable scientific journals at the end of 2015.