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Great Elephant Census “Tells us we Must act, and Now”

The UN Environment Program (UNEP) deputy head Ibrahim Thiaw released the following statement in reaction to the results of the Great Elephant Census, which showed African savanna elephant populations declined by 30 per cent (144,000 elephants) between 2007 and 2014:

“The findings of the Great Elephant Census show clearly that poaching is still decimating elephant herds across Africa. This practice makes no sense on any level – moral, economic or political.

“Elephants are already locally extinct in my own country, Mauritania, and I do not want to see this happen anywhere else – an imminent possibility in Cameroon and Mali, and further down the line in other countries, unless we accelerate action.

“There is reason for hope. Populations in some African nations are declining only slightly or even increasing. And support for tackling the crisis is increasingly backed by a growing public, political and private sector force for change – such as the Wild For Life campaign.

“Across Africa, nations are starting to see that wildlife is worth more alive than dead, and that it can generate revenue, through tourism for example, to fund the education, healthcare and infrastructure that will improve human well-being and drive economic growth.

“As depressing as these numbers are, I hope they act as a further spark for action and change. We know how to solve the crisis. The Great Elephant Census tells us we must act, and now.”

Investigators led by Elephants Without Borders director Mike Chase say the Pan-African Great Elephant Census shows that for savanna elephant populations in 15 GEC countries for which repeat counts were available, populations declined by 30 percent, or 144,000 animals, between 2007 and 2014. CREDIT EWB
Investigators led by Elephants Without Borders director Mike Chase say the Pan-African Great Elephant Census shows that for savanna elephant populations in 15 GEC countries for which repeat counts were available, populations declined by 30 percent, or 144,000 animals, between 2007 and 2014.
CREDIT EWB

The results of the two-year, U.S. $8 million Great Elephant Census (GEC) of African savannah elephants led by Elephants Without Borders (EWB) were released at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii, confirming massive declines in elephant numbers over just the last decade. The researchers reported the current rate of species decline is 8 percent per year, primarily due to poaching, said a news statement by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

“Investigators led by EWB director Mike Chase say the Pan-African survey shows that for savannah elephant populations in 15 GEC countries for which repeat counts were available, populations declined by 30 percent, or 144,000 animals, between 2007 and 2014,” the university said.

Wildlife ecologist Curt Griffin at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with postdoctoral researcher Scott Schlossberg, are members of a research team that compiled the data, conducted statistical analyses and applied new data analysis techniques to help Chase and EWB estimate the abundance and geographic distribution of savannah elephants across Africa using the most accurate, up-to-date statistical methods to analyze the survey data. Results provide a baseline that governments and wildlife conservation organizations can use to coordinate conservation efforts, the university added. Chase was Griffin’s graduate student at UMass Amherst when Chase founded the Botswana-based EWB in 2007.

The GEC is the first continent-wide aerial survey of African elephants. Griffin, who visits Africa every year to conduct research with Chase and EWB, says, “We at UMass Amherst are very proud to be a key partner in this great elephant count. We continue to advocate and work hard for the conservation of elephants in the face of the slaughter they are caught in.”

Until now, Griffin added, there has not been a coordinated continent-wide survey of elephants, and “we really didn’t know how accurate the estimates were, coming in from the various countries.” For this work, EWB worked with dozens of elephant researchers, government wildlife agencies and conservation groups to conduct aerial surveys from small planes and helicopters to count elephant herds across African savannahs. These surveys covered 463,000 km, equal to flying to the moon and a quarter of the way home.

Overall, 90 scientists, six non-governmental organization partners and two advisory partners collaborated in the GEC. EWB partnered with park biologists and rangers, game wardens and organizations including the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s African Elephant Specialist Group, Wildlife Conservation Society, Save the Elephants, The Nature Conservancy, Frankfurt Zoological Society and African Parks Network.

Overall, GEC researchers estimate the savannah elephant population is 352,271 in the 18 countries surveyed to date, representing at least 93 percent of savannah elephants in these countries. They say the rate of decline increased from 2007 to 2014.

“In their surveys, they sighted 84 percent of the elephants in legally protected areas compared to 16 percent in unprotected areas,” Amherst said. “However, large numbers of carcasses were counted in many protected areas, indicating that elephants are struggling both within and outside of parks. Experts say that poaching and the ivory trade pose serious threats, and if not stopped, savannah elephants could disappear from many parts of Africa.”

Post compiled from materials provided by the UN Environment Program and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.