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Elephants in descent

Great Elephant Census reports a dramatic decline of the population numbers of African elephants.

Frankfurt, 01. September 2016 According to the final report of the Great Elephant Census that was published yesterday (31 August 2016) the African Savannah elephant populations declined by 30 percent between the years 2007 and 2014. A total number of 352,271 elephants were counted in the 18 countries surveyed. Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) contributed to the Great Elephant Census through carrying out counting of elephants in Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

“The trend does not come as a surprise,” says the CEO of FZS Dr Christof Schenck. “Poaching continues to soar, as the report figures now confirm. The current rate of decline is 8 percent per year and this is primarily due to poaching.”

Dr. Christof Schenck, Executive Director Poaching continues to soar, as the report figures now confirm. The current rate of decline is 8 percent per year and this is primarily due to poaching. Dr. Christof Schenck, Executive Director

The Great Elephant Census is the first continent-wide count of elephants that relies on scientifically tested and standardized methods using aircraft for the counting exercise over short time periods (2014 and 2015). The results are a reliable assessment of the elephant population health and can serve as a basis for coordinated protection efforts across distribution countries. Christof Schenck stresses: “FZS will continue to support the fight against poaching, especially in Tanzania. Next week we are handing over 21 new off-road vehicles to the authorities of the Serengeti National Park and the Selous Game Reserve to enhance the law enforcement efforts of the rangers in their fight against poachers and traffickers”.

Counting elephants is a tough job

Our Serengeti team had three exhausting weeks of work in May/June 2014. This was when the FZS helped carry out part of the Serengeti Elephant Census in which all the elephants in the entire Serengeti ecosystem were counted. The Serengeti National Park is at the heart of one of the last largely unspoilt wilderness ecosystems in the world, and harbours a critical elephant population. The last full elephant census was conducted in 2009.


The 2014 census was part of the Great Elephant Census financed and organised by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. Numerous NGOs were involved, such as the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group, Elephants without Borders, the WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the African Parks Network, Save the Elephants and the Frankfurt Zoological Society. Other key participants included the conservation and national park authorities of the individual countries concerned.


Three aircraft were used for the 2014 census. Each aircraft contained a pilot and three observational staff members equipped with high-resolution digital cameras. The aircraft were in the air for more than 230 hours and completed a distance equivalent to circumnavigating the globe around the equator.


The ambitious project is the first continental-scale census since the 1970s. The results tell us how many elephants there are, how they are distributed and where they migrate.

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