Elephant census confirms catastrophic decline

Image: Elephants
Savanna elephant populations are dropping dramatically. (Credit: Great Elephant Census)

A first-of-its-kind census of African savanna elephants reveals that populations have declined by as much as 30 percent over the course of just seven years.

The backer of the Great Elephant Census, Seattle software billionaire Paul Allen, said the findings were “deeply disturbing.” The tally was laid out today at the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Conservation Congress in Honolulu.

Allen spent more than $7 million to fund and manage the survey and make the results available online.

“Armed with this knowledge of dramatically declining elephant populations, we share a collective responsibility to take action, and we must all work to ensure the preservation of this iconic species,” Allen said in a statement.

The two-year project took advantage of sightings from the ground and from the air, as well as standardized data collection and verification methods, to come up with a baseline for future surveys. The project’s leaders figure that they counted more than 93 percent of savanna elephant populations across nearly 600,000 square miles of savanna.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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