General Statistics

Total area: 22,617,267 km2

Range area (% of continent): 3,335,827 km2 (22%)

Protected area coverage (% of continent): 9%

Protected range (% of known and possible range in protected areas): 31%

Information Quality Index (IQI): 0.41

Current Issues

In broad terms, the main issues affecting elephant conservation across the continent today are habitat loss and fragmentation; human-elephant conflict; poaching for meat and ivory; and negative localized impacts of elephants on their habitats. The relative importance of these issues varies considerably across countries and regions, and these are discussed in more detail at the regional and national levels.

In response to the issues and threats identified, two regions, namely West and Central Africa, have developed their own regional strategies for the conservation of elephants (AfESG, 2003a, 2005), and Southern Africa has now embarked on a similar process.

The one issue that continues to engage the continent as a whole is the debate over the legalization of the international trade in ivory, which still divides countries holding diametrically opposing views.

Range Data

Elephants occur in 37 Range States in sub-Saharan Africa. Savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana africana) are found predominantly in Eastern and Southern Africa, while forest elephants (Loxodonta africana cyclotis) occur primarily in the Congo Basin of Central Africa. In West Africa, elephants live in both forest and savanna habitats, but their taxonomic status remains uncertain.

The distribution of elephants varies considerably across the four regions – from small, fragmented populations in West Africa to vast, virtually undisturbed tracts of elephant range in Central and Southern Africa. Southern Africa has the largest extent of elephant range of any region, and accounts for 39% of the species' total range area. Central and Eastern Africa follow with 29% and 26% of the continental total respectively, while West Africa accounts for only 5%. Detailed knowledge of the status of elephant distribution is scanty in many parts of the continent, however, particularly in Central Africa, and in countries emerging from armed conflict, such as Angola, Sudan, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The total area of elephant range at the continental level is currently estimated at over 3.3 million km2. This is nearly 1.6 million km2, or 32%, less than the range estimated for the previous report. This change in the estimated range is primarily due to the updating and improvement of previously unreliable information on elephant distribution, particularly in Central Africa, and should not be construed as a rapid reduction in actual elephant range in recent years. Improved knowledge of elephant distribution is reflected in the proportion of range categorized as known, which has increased from 38% to 63%. Much of the remaining information on possible range is now over 10 years old.

Population Data

This report features new or updated estimates for a total of 197 sites, over three-quarters of which are derived from systematic surveys. The proportion of elephant range for which elephant estimates are available, currently standing at 51%, has not changed notably since the previous report. However, the overall reliability of estimates has increased considerably, with estimates from systematic surveys now accounting for 29% of total range, versus 17% in the previous report. Indeed, the overall quality of information, as measured by the IQI, has improved by 20% since the previous report as a result of new surveys in previously unassessed areas and the replacement of guesses with estimates from systematic surveys.

Holding nearly 58% of the continent's definite plus probable elephants, Southern Africa has by far the largest known number of elephants in any region. Eastern Africa comes a distant second, with 30%. While Central Africa is an even more distant third (10.7%), its regional estimates in the possible and speculative categories are large compared to other regions. A substantial investment to improve the quality of data for Central Africa may therefore considerably increase its ranking in this respect. With only 1.5% of the continental definite plus probable estimate, West Africa continues to hold the smallest regional population by any measure.

The number of elephants in the definite category has increased by about 70,200 since the AESR 2002, largely as a result of updated estimates for sites where comparable survey techniques were employed. The estimate under the probable category has increased by over 23,600, primarily due to new dung count estimates in Gabon, where estimates had previously been degraded to the category of other guesses because they were long out of date. Figures under the possible and speculative categories, on the other hand, have declined by around 15,500 and 49,000 respectively. This is largely due to new guesses, the degradation of old data from the possible to the speculative category, the reanalysis of old data for Gabon and the removal of guesses for areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo where elephants may not have even been present at the time of the previous report. In other words, the changes in these two categories are reflective of changes in the quality of information, and not of actual changes in elephant numbers.

Estimates from methodologically comparable surveys (i.e. those labelled repeat survey or rs in the national tables of estimates) account for over two-thirds of the continental definite plus probable estimate. However, most comparable surveys were conducted in Southern and Eastern Africa (see Appendix II for a list of sites), and it would not be valid to analyze continental changes based largely on data from these two regions. It is nevertheless possible to conduct an analysis restricted to the data from these two regions combined (see Blanc et al. (2005) for details on methods), which together account for 88% of the continental definite plus probable estimate. The results of this analysis indicate an increase of 66,302 elephants (95% CI 21,777 to 110,827) in the combined estimates for the comparable populations. This highly significant increase (t = 2.92, p < 0.01) translates into an estimated annual rate of increase of 4.00% (95% CI of rate 1.14% to 6.58%) in the comparable populations during the period between the AESR 2002 and this report.

It should be emphasized that these results refer only to the relevant total numbers, as there are insufficient data in most cases to make valid comparisons at the site level. Similarly, the results do not imply a uniform increase across all sites, but merely an increase on average. Although the estimated rates of increase are within biologically possible limits, it is impossible to determine whether changes are due solely to natural population growth. While the possibility that elephant movements may have contributed to the observed increases cannot be ruled out, it is unlikely that much of the unsurveyed range contains high densities of elephants. It must be reiterated that this analysis says nothing about the situation in Central or West Africa, where there are insufficient data to draw any conclusions. The results of similar analyses conducted at the regional level can be found in the Overview sections for Eastern and Southern Africa.


Aerial or Ground Total Counts 52,320 0 0 0
Direct Sample Counts and Reliable Dung Counts 416,703 36,566 36,566 0
Other Dung Counts 601 46,138 8,788 0
Informed Guesses 2,645 0 38,980 6,148
Other Guesses 0 0 0 44,216
TOTALS 2006 472,269 82,704 84,334 50,364
TOTALS 2002 402,067 59,024 99,813 99,307


Repeat Survey +53,703 +5,897 +7,715 -617
New Population +3,772 +857 +3,580 +1,480
Different Technique +10,720 +24,031 +2,582 -7,048
Different Area +24,540 -2,631 -2,286 0
New Guess -6,536 -1,283 -9,747 -4,999
New Analysis -6,816 -700 -11,058 -44,885
Population Lost 0 0 -63 -171
Data Degraded -9,180 -2,490 -6,203 +7,297
NET CHANGE +70,202 +23,680 -15,479 -48,943


Data Category Known Range Possible Range Total Range
Aerial or Ground Total Counts 170,682 12,334 183,016
Direct Sample Counts and Reliable Dung Counts 678,335 36,939 715,274
Other Dung Counts 83,328 24 83,352
Informed Guesses 172,379 30,022 202,400
Other Guesses 411,597 113,026 524,623
Unassessed Range 597,909 1,029,252 1,627,161
TOTAL 2,114,230 1,221,597 3,335,827


Central Africa 10,383 48,936 43,098 34,129 975,079 29 52 0.22 1
Eastern Africa 137,485 29,043 35,124 3,543 880,063 26 45 0.36 2
Southern Africa 297,718 23,186 24,734 9,753 1,305,140 39 53 0.48 1
West Africa 7,487 735 1,129 2,939 175,545 5 66 0.44 3
TOTAL* 472,269 82,704 84,334 50,364 3,335,827 100 51 0.41

* Note that totals for the Definite, Probable and Possible categories are derived by pooling the variances of individual estimates, as described under the Data Types and Categorization section. As a result, totals do not necessarily match the simple sum of the entries within a given category.

1 IQI: Information Quality Index. This index quantifies overall data quality at the regional level based on the precision of estimates and the proportion of assessed elephant range (i.e. range for which estimates are available). The IQI ranges from zero (no reliable information) to one (perfect information). See the Introduction section for details on how the IQI is calculated.

2 PFS: Priority for Future Surveys, ranked from 1 (highest) to 5 (lowest). Based on the IQI and the proportion of continental range accounted for by the region in question, PFS is a measure of the importance and urgency for future population surveys, particularly in areas of unassessed range and areas not surveyed in the last 10 years or more. See the Introduction section for details on how the PFS is derived.

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