Why count elephants? Having accurate and reliable data about elephant population numbers and distribution is needed to form long-term conservation management plans.

About the Census

The Great Elephant Census is designed to provide accurate and up-to-date data about the number and distribution of African elephants by using standardized aerial surveys of tens of hundreds of thousands of square miles. Dozens of researchers flying in small planes will capture comprehensive observational data of elephants and elephant carcasses. Our standardized method of data collection and review, including validation by technical advisers, ensures all data is impartial and accurate. 

Photo courtesy of Elephants Without Borders. 

Photo courtesy of Elephants Without Borders. 

In many countries, surveys have not been flown in as many as 10 years, and without this data, it is challenging to assess the current state of elephant populations. There has not been a pan-African census in over 40 years, and none were completed using a standardized process and an independent validation process. Additionally, the existing data isn't well organized.  Time spent debating elephant numbers is time wasted. The resulting database will provide valuable information to governments, scientists, NGOs and all wildlife stakeholders in Africa so they can make strategic decisions on how to manage and protect elephant populations. 

partnerships are key

The Great Elephant Census was conceptualized by Paul G. Allen and Elephants Without Borders, and is supported by other organizations and individuals on the ground in Africa and globally including African Parks, Frankfurt Zoological Society, Wildlife Conservation Society, The Nature Conservancy, IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group, Howard Frederick, Mike Norton-Griffith, Kevin Dunham, Chris Touless and Curtice Griffin. 

what's next?

Full GEC results have also been shared with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to include in the 2016 African Elephant Status Report, enabling the GEC data to be combined with non-GEC information on forest and savanna elephant populations for a more complete continental picture. Interested parties can also visualize, explore and download (as allowed by contractual arrangements) the GEC data through a state-of-the art web platform at www.elephant-atlas.org. GEC principal investigator Mike Chase and conservation colleagues have analyzed and modeled GEC data and published a peer-reviewed scientific paper in PeerJ.

Sharing the Data

  • GEC results have been shared and made widely available through multiple channels for several reasons:
  • To inform countries about the status of their elephant populations, so they can take necessary action to protect them in a timely manner
  • To inform the global conservation community of the status of elephants in Africa overall, as well as in specific countries and landscapes, in order to inform sound decision-making at IUCN’s World Conservation Congress, the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species Conference of Parties, and elsewhere
  • To inform future conservation planning, including the allocation of global resources for elephant conservation and tourism
  • To provide a consistent baseline for measuring ongoing changes in elephant populations
  • Leveraging cutting-edge technology to gather open-source data that can enhance research is a key attribute of Paul Allen's initiatives, and the African Elephant Atlas allows users to explore the Great Elephant Census data. 

future survey priorities

The GEC embarked on surveys of South Sudan and the Central African Republic, but political insecurity and logistical challenges delayed efforts. Surveys are expected to be completed in 2016.

By combining GEC results with results from other savanna areas in Africa, notably Namibia, one can accurately estimate total savanna elephants at around 400,000, a substantial decline from previous estimates, though this number must be treated with care because no one knows how many savanna elephants live at low densities scattered across areas too large to survey scientifically. Reliably estimating total elephants in Africa is even more difficult because no recent scientifically validated estimate exists for the number of forest elephants in Central and West Africa. To address this gap, Vulcan is embarking with its partners on a range-wide count of forest elephants.