A recently completed multi-country census funded by Paul G. Allen's Vulcan Inc. shows a decline of 30 percent in African savanna elephants in fifteen of the eighteen countries surveyed.
Designed to determine the number and distribution of the great majority of African savanna elephants and provide a baseline for future surveys and trend analysis, the Great Elephant Census found that between 2007 and 2014 the population of savanna elephants in Africa fell by 144,000, while the current annual rate of decline is 8 percent, primarily due to poaching. Announced during the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress, the results of the census included a total count of 352,271 elephants in eighteen countries, or an estimated 93 percent of the elephants in those countries. While the vast majority of elephants (84 percent) were sighted in legally protected areas, large numbers of elephant carcasses were discovered in protected areas, indicating that the animals are struggling both inside and outside national parks.
"This project required a herculean effort on the part of many partners since its launch in December 2013, with eighty-one airplanes and two hundred and eighty-six crew members flying roughly four hundred sixty-three thousand kilometers to complete the survey," said Vulcan wildlife conservation director James Deutsch. "We want to recognize the collaboration and critical contributions of wildlife department staff in the eighteen countries surveyed along with our lead NGO, Elephants Without Borders, the ninety scientists, our technical advisory group, and other NGO partners, without which this undertaking would not have been possible."
New initiatives to protect African elephants include the launch of a forest elephant census in regions where poaching is thought to have devastated herds and adequate population data is critically needed. Vulcan also has developed a visual data platform that provides real-time intelligence on protected management areas, with the system already deployed on a pilot basis in Kenya. To generate broader awareness of the plight of African elephants, Allen’s Vulcan Productions plans to release two films this year: The Ivory Games, an undercover feature documentary that exposes the trade in illegal ivory; and Naledi: A Baby Elephant's Tale, the true story of a Botswanan elephant orphaned at the age of one month.
"This was an extraordinary collaboration across borders, cultures, and jurisdictions. We completed a successful survey of massive scale, and what we learned is deeply disturbing," said Paul Allen, who contributed more than $7 million — as well as a significant amount of his own time — to the effort. "Armed with this knowledge of dramatically declining elephant populations, we share a collective responsibility to take action, and we must all work to ensure the preservation of this iconic species."