Great Elephant Census Addresses Delegates at African Elephant Summit

The 2015 African Elephant Summit followed up the 2013 Summit which, among other things, announced the launch of the Great Elephant Census and included delegates from 30 countries who adopted 14 urgent conservation measures in the fight against poaching and global wildlife trafficking. Among those measures were zero tolerance approaches to wildlife crime, enhancing wildlife protection capacity for law enforcement, public-awareness programs, securing seized ivory stockpiles, improving monitoring of African elephant populations, elephant death data, strengthening cooperation among law-enforcement agencies and strengthening existing or implementing new legislation to increase the classification of wildlife trafficking to a "serious crime."  This follow-up summit reviewed efforts and discussed future measures to protect the species from probable extinction. 

The Great Elephant Census team joined the delegates at a time when the situation for elephants is growing increasingly perilous; in the 15 days leading up to the Summit, 30 elephants were found poached in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Garamba is one of the elephant population habitats that has been surveyed by the Great Elephant Census teams, and the park's elephants will be included in the final data. Wildlife trafficking in elephant ivory continues to be the greatest threat to elephant populations and is directly connected to larger criminal organizations and terrorism.

Dune Ives, Vulcan Philanthropy's Senior Director of Philanthropic Initiatives  and co-lead manager of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation addresses the delegates of the African Elephant Summit in Kasane, Botswana on March 23, 2015.

Dune Ives, Vulcan Philanthropy's Senior Director of Philanthropic Initiatives  and co-lead manager of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation addresses the delegates of the African Elephant Summit in Kasane, Botswana on March 23, 2015.

Below is the text of an address given by Dune Ives, Vulcan Philanthropy's Senior Director of Philanthropic Initiatives and co-manager of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, to the delegates at the African Elephant Summit.

Good morning. My name is Dune Ives, I am Sr Director of Vulcan Philanthropy and co-lead the Paul G Allen Family Foundation. Together, these entities are responsible for managing Mr Paul Allen’s philanthropic interests I am humbled by the experience of this esteemed delegation and the wisdom that you each bring to the growing issue of elephant protection. 15 months ago at the 2013 African Elephant Summit Dr. Mike Chase, Founder of Elephants Without Borders, announced the launch of Mr. Allen’s Great Elephant Census. As Dr. Chase finds himself flying over Ethiopia in service of this effort. I am honored to be your guest today to share an update on the Census and to share our perspective on the importance of elephant protection.

Our Founder and Chairman, Paul Allen, is firmly committed to the long-term sustainability of Africa in the areas of conservation and anti-poaching as well as support for the people in communities across the continent. For example, He took leadership role last summer and fall in fighting the Ebola crisis in West Africa helping to implement critical infrastructure to fight the spread of the disease, getting needed supplies to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea and supporting organizations that support the people who are most in need including the littlest and most vulnerable of all, the children left orphaned by Ebola. And he recognizes today that the emergency is still ongoing, with the very real need to get to zero cases of Ebola. Over many years, Mr. Allen has been fortunate to observe African elephants and rhinos in the wild throughout the continent and to work with others to better understand what remarkable, amazing, intelligent and caring creatures these are. I want to be unequivocal in stating that for the African elephant, it is the most critical hour of need—these species are predicted to be extinct in our lifetime if the current rate of poaching for their ivory tusks continues.

What is important here is that the numbers do not lie. Forty-one tons of illegal ivory from global large-scale seizures was reported for 2013; this is the highest on record since the present poaching crisis started. Scientists recently confirmed that an estimated 100,000 African elephants were poached in the last 3 years. At this rate the species will be extinct in the next 1-2 decades.

While we know many elephants are dying, we do not know how many still walk on African soil. The last continent-wide report produced in 2013 indicated 434,000 definite to an estimated 682,000 elephants remained.

Recognizing the need for an updated picture of the elephant population, Mr. Allen launched an ambitious effort – to complete a continent-wide aerial survey of African savannah elephants and report on the survey within a two year period. There are many who said it couldn’t possibly be done within two years, at minimum it would take five years. Our response was that in five years we may have lost our opportunity to save these magnificent and beloved animals.

I am pleased to report to you today that the Great Elephant Census is well under way! We have secured permission to fly, count and record elephants in 20 of 37 countries where savanna elephants live across 80% of their known range. We have completed more than 50% of the planned flights and we have flown over 136,000 km including over 800 hours in 11 countries by more than 15 survey teams. We have supported training in agencies both National and NGO.

Countries in which the census has been completed and for which survey results have been produced include Botswana, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Uganda, DRC, South Africa, Chad and Malawi. Currently underway is Ethiopia and Cameroon. Over the coming months our teams will complete surveys in Angola, Zambia, Kenya, South Sudan, CAR, Mali and the West Africa trans-boundary region including Benin, Niger and Burkina-Faso.

The wildlife authorities in each of these countries provided critical support to carrying out the survey work. Without each of you, this work would not be possible.

As I stand here before you, behind and next to me stand the following organizations and individuals to whom we are grateful for their leadership and commitment and without whom this Census would not be possible: Elephants Without Borders, African Parks, Frankfurt Zoological Society, Wildlife Conservation Society, World Wildlife Fund, Save the Elephants, The Nature Conservancy, the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group, Howard Frederick, Mike Norton-Griffith, Kevin Dunham, Colin Craig, Debbie Gibson, Chris Thouless and Curtice Griffin. These individuals have worked tirelessly to come to agreement on updated aerial survey standards including use of new technology developed and introduced by our team and partners to increase their efficiency and their accuracy.

But there is much work left to be done. As survey teams complete their work within your countries, the data and reports are reviewed by an external team of experts in order to validate the results. This is a critical step in the process so that you have the confidence that the data the teams have reported and the conclusions being made are held to the highest standards of scientific rigor and methodological soundness.

In doing so, the team will create a comprehensive picture of the current status of elephants to inform collaborative, regional and pan-African conservation strategies. Results from the initial countries are currently being validated by the Census’s Technical Advisory Team comprised of leading experts both within and outside of Africa.

For the aggregate great elephant census report, beginning in August the reporting team will begin the process of data aggregation and analysis answering the primary question of how many elephants remain. In addition to the size of the remaining populations, our hope is that these data can also be used to examine the health of the populations as well as the health of the ecosystems of which they are a part, examining issues such as fragmentation, availability of natural resources and human development. In doing so, this would enable you and others to address what may be more challenging questions regarding conservation priorities at a regional level.
In the end two reports will be produced. The first will be a Pan African technical report that addresses the size of the remaining savannah elephant populations in our survey areas. The second report will document the aerial survey methodologies used as part of the Census, including innovations that have implemented and recommendations for future enhancements to aerial survey practices.

One of the greatest legacies we can leave for future generations is the continued existence of these magnificent wild animals and their wild habitats. One of the greatest faults we can commit is to look the other way when asked to help. It is our global responsibility to rise to the challenge and halt the downward spiral of these species— to ensure that they are preserved for future generations.

On behalf of Mr. Allen, I thank you for your approval and support to count the elephants that grace your countryside and walk upon your hallowed ground. We are honored to help inform conservation and protection efforts through provision of timely, accurate and scientifically valid data about the current status your elephant populations and their ecosystems. Together we can make a difference.

The data collection, analysis and validation is a meticulous process, and the results of the Census will fill sizable information gaps that will allow governments and conservationists alike to create meaningful strategies to protect elephants for future generations. Summits like these assist in cultivating a collaborative spirit and help all parties involved coordinate holistic approaches to conservation that benefits elephants as well as their human neighbors.