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Herd of African elephants grazing in the wild under the Great Elephant Census

The Great Elephant Census: African Wildlife Conservation

What do you do if you want to make a difference with all your fortune? Well, billionaire Paul Alen has decided to go the philanthropist way by funding the Great Elephant Census, the largest-ever aerial survey of the African savannah elephant population. Learn more about the results of these surveys in this article.

The Great Elephant Census: A Survey of Elephants Across Africa

The Great Elephant Census (GEC) is the most ambitious survey of the African bush elephant. Funded from the pockets of Paul Allen, this unique census project seeks to revolutionize wildlife conservation in the continent through dint of scientific research and methodology.     

By collecting this much data on the elephants’ numbers (information that was formerly hugely unknown and outdated), the GEC can provide a good picture of the current state of African elephants across their range. It should answer many questions regarding distribution and population trends, a pressing issue that then faced wildlife conservation.

Moreover, by gathering such data, scientists, policymakers, and other conservationists can develop better and better strategies for protecting these iconic animals from poaching and other threats like habitat loss.

In order to get an accurate count of Africa’s elephant population, Allen's team took to the skies for over 290,000 kilometers of flight time. They used specially equipped planes with advanced cameras that could spot elephants from high altitudes—something that was never before possible until now!

The GEC has not only changed the way we count and monitor African elephants but also how we prioritize conservation efforts and form better strategies for preserving them long-term.

Why Wildlife Conservation Matters

African elephant walking across a savannah

Whether you're an animal lover, a conservationist, or simply enjoy being outdoors, it is indisputable that elephants are a keystone species in the health of our planet.

Elephants are essential to the balance of grasslands and forests, disperse seeds that help create new trees, and influence water cycles by digging waterholes during dry seasons.

The survey has revealed that African savannah elephant populations have declined drastically (an estimated 30%) between 2007 and 2014 because of poaching for illegal ivory trade and human-wildlife conflict. Much like the giraffe, these amazing creatures are facing a massive silent extinction.

This is why African elephant conservation is critical to save the species from extinction and preserve the biodiversity of the entire ecosystems they inhabit.

The census helps identify remaining key habitats where viable elephant populations still exist and provide vital data for effective strategies to protect them. With this knowledge, we can take steps towards a future that includes healthy elephant populations—and a healthier planet!


One thing you might not know is that without the Great Elephant Census, we wouldn't know the extent of damage to elephant populations around the world. The census was created by billionaire Paul Allen as part of his commitment to wildlife conservation and research.

So how did it work?

Air Survey

A team of experienced pilots and observers flew over large tracts of land, counting elephants using a standardized protocol. This method allowed the GEC to cover vast areas quickly and efficiently while minimizing the risk of double-counting.

Ground surveys

Teams of researchers and conservationists conducted ground surveys to verify the accuracy of the aerial counts, and to collect additional data on elephant behavior, habitat, and other factors.

Collar tracking

The GEC also used GPS tracking collars to monitor the movements of individual elephants, allowing researchers to gain a more detailed understanding of their behavior, migration patterns, and habitat use.

Dung counts

In some areas where aerial surveys were difficult or impractical, the GEC used dung counts to estimate elephant populations. This involved collecting and analyzing elephant dung samples to determine the number and distribution of elephants in a given area.

Results Of The Survey

Sleeping African elephant lying on a grassy plain

The results were staggering—the estimate showed an overall reduction of 30% between 2007-2014 among certain countries. The result was quite shocking, with some populations faring worse than others.

According to the Zimbabwe survey, 46% of elephants were lost between 2001-2014! A yearly carcass ratio of 8% each year represents much of this disappearing population.

A carcass ratio is considered too high if it goes eight percent or over. This indicates that poaching has become too big in the surveyed area and that the existing elephants are not enough to replenish the losses from these hunters.

Among these countries was Northern Cameroon, with a carcass ratio of 83%. Other countries had their ratios vary from seven to thirty percent. It is estimated that elephant populations from high carcass ratio countries would soon go extinct if left without intervention.

The Great Elephant Census provided a groundbreaking understanding of the situation for elephant populations around Africa and created an urgency for better wildlife protection measures across the continent.

Although many organizations are actively working on this problem, it is insufficient. Individual cooperation is needed to make any significant change for these creatures.

With that being said, you can help too! Take up your animal rescue shirt today and start advocating for the protection of the elephants. You can even volunteer to go do some amazing animal rescue vacations with a special focus on the savannah.


How many years has the GEC been working?

The researchers from their team were active for more than six years.

Why is the Great Elephant Census important?

Tracking wildlife populations is vital for conservationists seeking to protect wild animals from extinction.

What is the organization involved in this project?

While Allen funded the project itself, the actual research was spearheaded by experts from Elephants Without Borders, a group dedicated to conserving and managing the elephant population in Africa.

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