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

Update in Progress

Dear Readers,

This fact sheet, like an elephant, is aging gracefully. San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance is working to bring you an updated version of the African Elephants Fact Sheet with new science and conservation information. Thanks for your patience, as our tusks go to the ground and dig into this huge project. Please check back soon. SDZWA team members can email questions to

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Population Status

Population estimates

  • Approximately 415,000 individuals across 275 survey areas in Africa (Thouless et al. 2016)
    • Possibly another 117,000 to 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 to 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 to 450,000 (figure provided by International Fund for animal Welfare - IFAW)
      • Savannah/bush (Loxodonta africana) elephants: about 200,000 to 430,000
      • Forest (L. cyclotis) elephants: about 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)

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

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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