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The Great Elephant Census Aims to Count Every Elephant in Africa

In order to save the elephants, we need to know how many elephants we have to save.

Image by guido da rozze via Creative Commons

On the continent of Africa it’s estimated that 100 elephants die every single day. While some deaths are natural—old age, disease, an unfortunate encounter with a pride of lions—a large portion of the elephant’s disappearance can be blamed squarely on human beings. Between rogue farmers’ shotguns and ivory crazed poachers, the massive pachyderms are dying. In 2011 an estimated 40,000 elephants were illegally killed. One number that’s not so accessible is the number of live elephants in Africa. For the sake of conservation, the Great Elephant Census is trying to to fill that void.


In an an attempt to provide African countries with all of the information necessary to deal with the elephant crisis, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen put $7.3 million dollars toward a partnership with Botswana nonprofit Elephants Without Borders. Since last February the Great Elephant Census has been counting the continent’s elephants from a fleet of helicopters the sky.

The two year project will conclude later this year, when official numbers will be revealed. Unfortunately, while the team was hoping to get to all 37 African countries that are home to elephants, only 18 have agreed and some have refused altogether. Nonetheless, the data will be of huge benefit.

“To have this foundational information on precisely how many elephants are left will help gauge future conservation efforts,” Botswanan founder of Elephants without Borders and Census leader told PBS.

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