Populations across regions
With over 70% of the estimated African elephants, Southern Africa has by far the largest number of the species – approximately 293,000 elephants in systematically surveyed areas. Eastern Africa holds about 86,000 (20%) estimated elephants, while Central Africa has about 24,000 estimated elephants (6%). West Africa continues to hold the smallest regional population with approximately 11,000 (under 3%).
Eastern Africa – the region most affected by poaching – has experienced an almost 50% elephant population reduction, largely attributed to an over 60% decline in Tanzania’s elephant population. Although some sites have recorded declines, elephant numbers have been stable or increasing since 2006 in Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda, and range expansion has been reported in Kenya.
Central Africa’s forest elephant population has been substantially affected by poaching for ivory, since the 1990s. The Democratic Republic of Congo used to hold one of the most significant forest elephant populations in Africa, which has now been reduced to tiny remnants of its former size. Gabon and Congo now hold Africa’s most important forest elephant populations but both have been affected by heavy poaching in recent years, as have the forest and savannah populations of Cameroon. The savanna populations of Chad have taken heavy losses and those in the Central African Republic have almost completely disappeared.
West Africa’s elephant populations are mostly small, fragmented and isolated with 12 populations reported as lost since 2006 in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone, Togo, Guinea and Nigeria. The elephant population in the trans-frontier ‘WAP’ complex that straddles the border between Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger remains the strong-hold of West Africa’s elephant population.
While poaching has not had the same impact in Southern Africa as in other areas, the region is now also facing the emergence of a growing poaching threat. Population declines have been observed in Mozambique and some areas in Zimbabwe, while major populations in Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe are stable or increasing, and there is evidence of elephant range expansion in Botswana. There is still uncertainty about the size of the KAZA trans-frontier elephant population – the single largest on the continent – and it remains critical to undertake a coordinated survey of this population.
Estimates for savanna populations across the continent have improved in both reliability and coverage and many forest populations in Central Africa have been surveyed for the first time.
The report has been produced by the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s African Elephant Specialist Group, in partnership with Vulcan Inc and Kenya-based charity Save the Elephants. It draws on data from the African Elephant Database of the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group, which is the most comprehensive spatial database on the status of any wide-ranging mammal species in the wild.
Click here to find out more about the IUCN’s African Elephant Specialist Group.