Responding to the highest rate of elephant mortality in history, investor and philanthropist Paul G. Allen is advancing a major elephant conservation initiative in Africa to provide new information critical to the species' future survival. The Great Elephant Census is the largest pan-Africa aerial survey since the 1970s and will be managed by Elephants Without Borders.
Ivory trade and poaching pose serious threats to African elephants, and experts predict there is a risk that the elephants could disappear from many parts of the continent for good. The two-year census project, which kicks off in February 2014, will provide accurate data about the numbers and distribution of the African elephant population, including geographic range, forming an essential baseline that will benefit conservation efforts.
â€œI've spent enough time in Africa to see the impacts of poaching and habitat loss on the continent's elephant population,â€ said Allen. â€œBy generating accurate, foundational data about African elephants, I'm hopeful that this project will significantly advance the conservation efforts of this iconic species.â€
The census continues Allen's history of supporting global initiatives with the potential to catalyze research and solutions that accelerate progress on both scientific and social fronts. Allen's strong ties to Africa include his investment of more than $10 million since 2008 to help support wildlife and landscape conservation efforts, and community and economic development projects.
Historically, counts of Africa's savanna elephants have varied in quality and some have been speculative, which can lead to incorrect conclusions about population status and trends. An accurate count of the African elephant population using up-to-date scientific techniques is a vital step in managing conservation efforts, identifying poaching hotspots and guiding law enforcement interventions, and assessing the impact of threats, such as habitat loss.
â€œOver the past few years, I have documented with regret the slow retreat of elephants from habitats they were rapidly repopulating,â€ said Dr. Mike Chase, director and founder, Elephants Without Borders. â€œThe threat of local extinction feels very real. In October 2013, Elephants Without Borders flew a survey over a park where we had previously counted more than 2,000 elephants. We counted just 33 live elephants and 55 elephant carcasses. That is why this research is so important.â€
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Elephants Without Borders, which has developed a reputation for providing novel and meaningful information for the conservation of African elephants, conceptualized and will conduct the survey in close collaboration with in-country conservation organizations and governments. The survey is scheduled to take two years. In the first year, the team will survey the population of elephants and other large herbivores in 22 countries representing between 95 percent of Africa's savanna elephants. In the second year, researchers will analyze the data and package findings. Preliminary survey results are expected in mid-2015 and will be shared with academics, NGOs, and governments championing animal and land conservation. The survey will comprise 18 planes, 46 scientists and about 19,000 transects, totaling 600,000 km, which will be flown in 18,000 hours over 7 months of flyovers, and will involve African governments and NGOs, including the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group, World Wildlife Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society, Frankfurt Zoological Society, African Parks Network and Save the Elephants.