Counting Elephants Continues: New Aerial Survey Completed

Aug 31 2023

Survey of the five KAZA countries shows elephant populations are stable. Results will further inform coordinated wildlife management plans.

In 2021, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation funded a new aerial survey of elephants across the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA). This partnership built on earlier work from late founder Paul G. Allen's 2014 Great Elephant Census, the first pan-African survey in over 60 years, that was completed in 2016 and revealed a 30% decline in elephants continent-wide.

The KAZA region, which includes the Republics of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, has historically been home to over 50% of the savanna elephants on the African continent. It is critical to understand the dynamics of the largest contiguous population of elephants in the world to help guide conservation policy and improve human-elephant coexistence efforts.

Elephants regularly move across international boundaries. Therefore, it was necessary for the countries to coordinate synchronized flights to improve the quality of the final estimate. This coordinated aerial survey technique was implemented and improved upon from the Great Elephant Census, and in addition to coordinating flights, it adheres to a standardized process and daily data validation processes. There were also steps to modernize and improve the aerials survey process through new camera and artificial intelligence methods.


So, what did the surveys reveal? Some good news, that this stronghold of elephants is stable. This of course varies across specific areas, as certain regions exhibited population growth, others remain steady, and a few may have experienced decline. Angola, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe all saw an increase in the number of elephants, while Zambia saw their elephant population almost halved. Though overall, the survey reported a net postive increase in elephant populations, from 216,970 to 227,900.

In addition to counting live elephants, these surveys also count elephant carcasses, as distinctly high carcass ratios could indicate issues in the area that need additional investigation or protection efforts. The investigators reported a carcass ratio of 10.47%, which was high enough to warrant closer inspection, since it might indicate heightened mortality rates in certain areas.

Our goal funding these foundational data-driven projects is to provide leadership with data needed to guide policy, further conservation efforts, improve human-elephant coexistence, and secure a healthy future for elephants. 

Learn more about this survey here