Africa-Wide Elephant Census Underway
October 2014, Volume 12-5-II

Investor and eco-philanthropist Paul G. Allen of Microsoft fame is advancing a major elephant conservation initiative in Africa to provide new information critical to the species’ future survival. The Great Elephant Census is the largest pan-Africa aerial survey since the 1970s and will be managed by Elephants Without Borders. 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 the organizers will have dozens of researchers capturing comprehensive observational data of elephants and elephant carcasses. The two-year census project, which kicked off in February 2014, will provide accurate data about the numbers and distribution of the African elephant population, including geographic range, forming an essential baseline that will benefit conservation efforts.

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. Additionally, the existing data isn’t well organized.  The database from the new census will provide valuable information to governments, scientists and NGOs so they can make smart decisions on how to manage elephant populations. In the first year, elephants and other large herbivores in more than 18 countries will be surveyed. Non-governmental organizations like the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group, African Parks, Frankfurt Zoological Society, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Save the Elephants and others will participate. The surveys in Angola, Botswana, Chad, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe will account for about 80% of the savanna elephant range and roughly 90% of Africa’s savanna elephants. In the second year (ca. mid-2015), the data will be analyzed and published and made available to academics, NGOs and governments.

Elephants Without Borders (EWB) conceptualized and will conduct the survey in close collaboration with in-country conservation organizations and governments. Based in Botswana, EWB is led by Dr. Mike Chase as principal researcher leading and coordinating the massive initiative. Chase has been studying the ecology of elephants in Botswana for nearly 15 years, received a doctorate specifically in elephant ecology.

The surveys will also provide experience on how to integrate new technologies which can improve on established aerial survey methods and allow for enhanced data gathering. Leveraging cutting-edge technology to gather data that can enhance research is a key attribute of Paul Allen’s initiatives. The elephant census continues Allen’s history of supporting global initiatives with the potential to catalyze research and solutions that accelerate progress on both scientific and social fronts. Allen’s strong ties to Africa include his investment of more than $10 million since 2008 to help support wildlife and landscape conservation efforts, and community and economic development projects.

Author: Gerhard R Damm