African elephants are reaching a point-of-no-return, with deaths outpacing births in many regions. In 2013, Dr. Mike Chase met with his friend and fellow elephant-lover Paul Allen in Botswana. Dr. Chase had a not-so-modest proposal: Reinvigorate conservation efforts in Africa with a first-of-its-kind in 40 years, continent-wide aerial survey using a standardized methodology. The results would fill a critical data gap, and provide a current understanding of how many elephants are left in Africa—a fresh perspective for collaborative conservation strategies within individual countries, as well as across borders. Mr. Allen is a philanthropist and ardent conservationist, but his roots are in technology and engineering. He firmly believes that through data-driven innovation we can unlock effective, large-scale solutions to the world’s toughest challenges, like wildlife conservation.
Since the wheels first went up on the Great Elephant Census (GEC) 20 months ago, the team has surveyed more than 75 percent of participating countries. From flights over historic elephant strongholds like Botswana to never-before-surveyed regions of Angola, the emerging results of the Census are starting to reveal that different parts of Africa are facing different challenges when it comes to conservation. Incredible discoveries have been made, including an unexpected herd in Ethiopia, as well as sobering results, like a 60 percent decline in the once elephant-rich country of Tanzania.
Currently, we await results from a collection of countries in West Africa, Cameroon, Kenya and Mali. Aerial surveys are being flown or about to begin in Angola, Central African Republic, South Sudan and Zambia. When the final plane lands and all the data is compiled and validated, we will be able to tell the whole data-driven story of Africa’s savanna elephants.
However, not everyone can climb into a Cessna and count elephants. Another key component to saving elephants is raising awareness of their plight. October 3rd and 4th marks the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, an incredible opportunity for people across the globe to come together and show their support for these creatures.
Events like GMFER are critical to spreading the urgent news about the status of elephants in Africa and the measures that must be taken to protect them. Films such as Racing Extinction and Gardeners of Eden are getting the story out to massive audiences. And video campaigns like WildAid’s target countries where the demand for ivory is high, and work to change social conscious so that every trinket and talisman represents another elephant that is forever lost.
Help spread the word on Twitter and Facebook about the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos. Share this post, follow @elephantcount and @elerhinomarch, use the hashtags #GMFER #MarchAgainstExtinction, and see if there is a march happening in your area at www.march4elephantsandrhinos.org.
Because every step, flight and tweet matter when it comes to saving the African elephant – as you march, we count, and hopefully, they will survive.