EWB’s Technical Report on Elephant Population Trends, April 2024

A new report from Elephants Without Borders (EWB), summarizing the results of over a decade of aerial surveys in southern Africa, finds new reason for concern about the conservation of African savanna elephants in Botswana and Angola.

The new report, authored by Dr. Scott Schlossberg and Dr. Michael Chase, used data from aerial surveys between 2010 and 2022 to update the conservation status of elephants in Botswana, Angola, and the larger Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA). KAZA includes portions of Botswana, Angola, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe and holds 228,000 elephants as of 2022

Botswana holds 130,000 elephants, the largest elephant population of any country. The report shows that elephant numbers in northern Botswana were essentially unchanged between 2010 and 2022. The 2022 aerial survey revealed high numbers of elephant carcasses. In addition, recently, EWB monitoring flights have found 56 illegally poached elephants, concentrated in two small areas. After elephant hunting resumed in Botswana in 2019, elephant numbers decreased by 25% in areas with hunting while increasing by 28% in protected areas where hunting is forbidden.

“The recent changes in Botswana are all in a negative direction” said Michael Chase, co-author on the new report and executive director of EWB. “After decades of growing numbers, the elephant population is flat now. And numbers of elephant carcasses are growing, meaning that elephants may be dying at an unsustainable rate. The new evidence of poaching that we’re seeing—56 freshly killed elephants in just 3 months—is especially worrisome.”

In southeast Angola, between 2015 and 2022, elephants in the western part of the elephants’ range were essentially, wiped out, with numbers reduced by 99%. The 2022 Angola survey also found that elephants were gathering in large herds, a behavior typical of a population being persecuted. Numbers of elephant carcasses in Angola remain unsustainably high, and ranger patrols are encountering poached elephant carcasses.

These new results raise questions about imposing rumours on elephant management. The Botswana government has proposed sending 8,000 elephants to Angola, purportedly to reduce crowding in Botswana. But elephant numbers are growing very slowly in Botswana now, and high numbers of carcasses seen in Angola in 2022 mean that Angola may not be safe for elephants right now.

In 2019, the Botswana government resumed elephant trophy hunting after a 5-year moratorium, stating that the elephant population was growing at 6% per year. Using the survey results, this report shows that elephant numbers are growing at just 1% per year. The slow growth rate of elephant numbers combined with the high numbers of carcasses across the KAZA region with continued poaching documented call into question the industry’s sustainability.

Also, the analysis in the report, based on elephant densities in differing management areas, demonstrate a large-scale movement of elephants from hunting areas to protected areas. Among these protected areas are Chobe National Park, Moremi Game Reserve, much of the Okavango Delta and areas near permanent or semi-permanent water sources, including those with human settlements. The influx of elephants into these already crowded and fragile habitats complicates elephant conservation efforts and can exacerbate the problem of elephants coming into close contact with people.

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