Great Elephant Census

Elizabeth Borneman


Elephants Without Borders is much more than another animal conservation group- it is a worldwide effort to map and protect elephants in Africa. Mapping animal migrations and numbers has long been a goal for many different people and organizations around the world seeking to protect these animals through various methods.

The group called Elephants Without Borders has recently finished a two-year survey of African elephants across the entire continent, known as the Great Elephant Census (GEC). They found that there have been significant losses in the number of elephants in the herds that primarily live in the savannah areas. They estimate that the elephant population is decreasing by about 8% a year, but nearly a third of the elephant population on the savannah has been lost in just seven years.

Researchers associated with Elephants Without Borders counted elephants from the ground in addition to using analytical methods to calculate the elephant population throughout Africa. The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, used the data to estimate an elephant population count throughout the 15 nations associated with the elephant project. Over ninety scientists participated in the project, many of whom have worked in conservation and wildlife research for many years. The data was gathered and rechecked to make sure elephant counts were as accurate as possible.

Estimated density of elephants by stratum on GEC survey areas, 2014–2015. Source: Chase et. al, 2016.
Estimated density of elephants by stratum on GEC survey areas, 2014–2015. Source: Chase et. al, 2016.

Counting elephants is important not only to determine how many elephants live in Africa, but is also important for researchers to determine how elephants are dying. Dying from natural causes is part of life, but researchers need to know how many elephants are in danger from poaching, other manmade risks, diseases, and environmental changes.

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Poaching and the ivory trade remain the biggest dangers for wild elephants in Africa, both in and outside of conservation refuges. Unfortunately, wildlife refuges aren’t always able to keep poachers from killing elephants. Elephants Without Borders concluded that unless the ivory trade is ended, the African elephant population will continue to decline in the savannah areas.


Chase, M. J., Schlossberg, S., Griffin, C. R., Bouché, P. J., Djene, S. W., Elkan, P. W., … & Omondi, P. (2016). Continent-wide survey reveals massive decline in African savannah elephantsPeerJ4, e2354.

Visit the online Great Elephant Census Atlas:

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About the author
Elizabeth Borneman
My name is Elizabeth Borneman and I am a freelance writer, reader, and coffee drinker. I live on a small island in Alaska, which gives me plenty of time to fish, hike, kayak, and be inspired by nature. I enjoy writing about the natural world and find lots of ways to flex my creative muscles on the beach, in the forest, or down at the local coffee shop.