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African Elephants (Loxodonta africana and L. cyclotis) Fact Sheet: Population & Conservation Status

Population Status

Population estimates

  • Approximately 415,000 individuals across 275 survey areas in Africa (Thouless et al. 2016)
    • Possibly another 117,000-135,000 individuals in areas not systematically surveyed
  • Populations experiencing continent-wide decline due to increased ivory poaching since 2006 (Chase et al. 2016; Thouless et al. 2016)


Historical population estimates

(summarized from Blanc 2008; CITES database; Grubb & Groves, 2000; Nowak, 1991)

  • 1930s and 1940s
    • 3-5 million African elephants (WWF)
  • 1979
    • 1,300,000 (decline due to ivory poaching and culling)
  • 1987
    • 760,000
  • 1989
    • 609,000
  • 1998
    • 750,000
  • 2003
    • 300,000-450,000 (figure provided by International Fund for animal Welfare - IFAW)
      • Savannah/bush (Loxodonta africana) elephants: c. 200,000-430,000
      • Forest (L. cyclotis) elephants: c. 80,000-210,000


Some regional populations rebounding

  • Okavango Delta for Dept. of Wildlife and National Parks in Botswana (Chase & Griffin 2009)
    • Aerial survey suggests elephant and hippo populations have stabilized (no significant decline since previous census)
    • Many other species in catastrophic decline
      • Including wildebeest, giraffe, tsessebe, lechwe, zebra, warthog, kudu, roan, and ostrich
  • Angola (Chase & Griffin 2009)
    • Elephants are also returning to the war-ravaged country, since hostilities ceased in 2002

Conservation Status

IUCN status

  • African savanna elephant (L. africana)
    • Endangered (2020 assessment) (Gobush, Edwards, Balfour et al. 2021)
  • African forest elephant (L. cyclotis)
  • Past assessments
    • 2008 - Vulnerable
    • 2004 - Vulnerable
    • 1996 - Endangered
    • 1994 - Vulnerable
    • 1986 - Vulnerable

CITES Status

  • Appendix I, except for populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, which are included in Appendix II (UNEP 2019)

History of (some) conservation efforts

  • ​1884
    • Paul Krueger urged the South African government to establish national reserves for wildlife
    • Park began in 1894-1895, with 10 elephants
  • 1981
    • Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan for elephants begun
  • 1988
    • African Elephant Conservation Coordinating Group formed
      • Funded by WWF-US and USFWS and European Economic Community
      • Plan formulated for 49 key populations in various parts of Africa to guarantee preservation of the species genetically
  • 1989
    • CITES approves an international ban on ivory, moving the African elephant to Appendix I status
  • 1997
    • CITES mandates a monitoring system to track illegal trade in elephant products
      • The Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) is operated under the auspices of TRAFFIC
  • 2002
    • CITES conditionally accepts proposals from Botswana, Namibia and South Africa allowing them to make one-off sales of 20, 10 and 30 tons, of ivory held in existing legal stocks
      • Similar proposals from Zambia and Zimbabwe were rejected
      • Conservationists believe the sales will subject all surviving elephants to the threat of poaching
      • MIKE (Monitoring Illegal Killing of Elephants) is established to measure the poaching impact of these decisions
  • 2010
    • CITES passes resolution to aid elephant conservation and votes down a proposal by Tanzania to sell some of their stockpiled ivory
      • Zambia then withdrew a similar proposal

Threats to Survival

Habitat loss

  • Driven by conversion of land
    • Elephant habitats altered for use as coffee, tea, rubber, and teak farms
    • Iron ore mining and a sharp rise in human population (Daniel 1992)

Exploitation by humans

  • Poaching
    • Killed for their tusks as part of the illegal trade in ivory
      • Elephant poaching has recently risen to an average of 104 elephants a day in Africa (IFAW 2010)
    • Availability of mammoth ivory (as much as 60 tons/year) helps keep demand high for all ivory products and may mask illegal trade in elephant ivory (McCarthy 2010)

Conflict between human and elephant populations

  • Results in smaller, more fragmented elephant populations
    • Due to increasing human and domestic animal populations, roads, forest exploitation, and agricultural plantations

Management Actions

National parks and reserves (from Blanc 2008)

  • Protected to varying degrees within numerous protected areas
    • Most large populations occur within protected areas
    • Up to 70% of the species range is believed to lie in unprotected land

Conservation measures (from Blanc 2008)

  • Habitat management and protection through law enforcement
    • Successful management at the site level can result in the build-up of high elephant densities
      • Often perceived as a threat to their local habitats, as well as to other species and to elephant populations themselves
      • Management interventions to reduce elephant numbers and local densities have been limited and most recently been undertaken through contraception or translocation
      • Large-scale culling has not been performed as a population management option since Zimbabwe discontinued the practice in 1988 and South Africa did likewise in 1994
    • An increasing number of trans-boundary elephant populations are co-managed through the collaboration of relevant neighbouring Range States
  • Management of sport hunting
    • Permitted by legislative action in many countries
    • CITES permits export in some countries
      • Quotas established for Botswana, Cameroon, Gabon, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe
  • Community-based conservation programs
    • Utilize revenue from sport hunting of elephants to direct programs to support increased tolerance toward elephants
      • Goal is to indirectly reduce levels of human-elephant conflict
  • Large-scale conservation interventions planned
    • Plans to develop conservation and management strategies at the national and regional level

Needed action

  • Establishment of wildlife corridors (from Chase & Griffin 2009)
    • Corridors to enable elephants to move between countries are needed
    • Particularly important to allow elephants to move freely between Botswana, Namivia, Angola and Zambia

African Elephant

African Elephant near Ndutu Lodge on the border of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania.

African Elephant near Ndutu Lodge on the border of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons with Creative Commons. (Creator: nickandmel2006 on Flickr.)

Page Citations

Blanc (2008)
Chadwick (1992)
Chase & Griffin (2009)
Daniel (1992)
McCarthy (2010)
Martin (1992)
Tuttle (1995)

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