Jul 1

African elephant populations on the savannas of West and Central Africa have halved over the last 40 years, according to a study published in PloS One.

Photo of African elephants walking in line

African elephants walking in line

Researchers collected data from aerial and ground surveys conducted over the last four decades, to study trends in the African elephant populations within protected areas. 

In total, the researchers estimated an elephant population of 7,750 individuals across the Sudano-Sahelian zone – an area of savanna that stretches across the African continent just below the Sahara desert. The authors of the study said this represents a minimum decline of 50% in just 40 years.

Photo of African elephant bull feeding in swamp

African elephant bull feeding in swamp

Half of populations unsustainable 

Perhaps most alarmingly, half of the 23 African elephant populations studied were estimated to number fewer than 200 individuals – populations this small tend to go extinct within a few decades. The populations were also extremely fragmented. Meanwhile, elephant populations outside of protected areas, which were not covered in this study, are expected to fare even worse. 

The worrying trend in West and Central African elephants sits in stark contrast to African elephant populations in southern regions, where many populations are increasing thanks to conservation efforts. 

The study states that, “differences in the status of Africa’s elephants, with populations of least concern in southern Africa and threatened populations in the rest of the continent, perpetuate the disagreement regarding ivory trade and debates about ivory trade bans at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).” 

Photo of African elephant calf walking

African elephant calf walking

Civil conflicts and poaching for the illegal trade in ivory were identified by the researchers as key contributors to the decline of African elephants. However, the greatest threat is thought to be declining rainfall and increasing competition with livestock for land and water resources. 

African elephants in the region are responsible for creating open habitats through grazing and trampling and also distribute seeds in their faeces, meaning the loss of elephants would impact numerous other species.

Photo of African elephant herd walking in line

African elephant herd walking in line

Protective corridors 

To preserve the remaining African elephants, the researchers propose that eight new protective habitat corridors be established as soon as possible, to connect the main elephant populations. 

They also recommend that conservation organisations work with private sector wildlife initiatives and channel more wildlife revenues to local communities as a way of securing the future for elephants on Africa’s northern savannas. 

View more images and videos of the African elephant on ARKive. 

Find out more about African elephant conservation at Save the Elephants. 

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

Mar 9

Elephants are able to understand when a task requires teamwork and can cooperate to retrieve a reward, according to a new study.

Photo of Asian elephant

The Asian elephant is under threat from hunting and habitat loss, and is listed as Endangered by the IUCN.

Elephant-sized experiment

Although elephants are widely assumed to be highly intelligent, the dangers and difficulties involved in testing such a large animal mean that experimental evidence is often lacking.

Close-up photo of Asian elephant

Elephants live in stable family groups and have often been seen helping calves or other family members in the wild.

The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used a jumbo-sized version of apparatus usually used to test monkeys and apes. The experiment required two Asian elephants to pull together on ropes to bring a table of food within reach.

The elephants quickly learned to cooperate to get their reward, and would even wait for their partner before trying to pull on the rope, showing that they understood the need to work together.

Photo of African elephants at waterhole

African elephants are larger than their Asian cousins and are also highly intelligent. Elephants have long memories and may even mourn their dead.

One elephant even came up with an alternative strategy, putting her foot on the rope and waiting for her partner to do all the work of pulling on the other.

Highly intelligent species

These findings show that elephants are as capable of cooperation as apes, putting them in an “elite group” of intelligent and socially complex animals which includes chimpanzees, dolphins and some birds.

Photo of a juvenile chimpanzee

Other species shown to understand cooperation include apes such as chimpanzees.

Watch a video of the elephant experiment in the BBC report.

View stunning photos and videos of the Asian elephant on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

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