Elephant Conservation

It's All About the Tusks.


Poaching is on the rise.

Poachers are targeting African elephants for their ivory tusks now more than ever. Thus, several populations are in decline. In 2011, 40 tons of illegal ivory were seized worldwide, the equivalent of 4,000 dead elephants. If this black-market demand continues, elephants may quickly cease to exist in the wild.

Where does the ivory Go?

The ivory tusks cut from elephants are made into carvings, jewelry, utensils and other ornaments and often sold around the world. The increased demand for ivory is coming primarily from Asian countries with booming economies. Weak law enforcement in African and Asian countries makes illegal ivory easier to buy.

Isn’t it illegal?

In some African countries the sale or trade of ivory is illegal, while in several southern African countries it is not. After a steep decline in elephant populations in the 1980s, there was a ban on the trade of all ivory. A few years later, some southern African countries were allowed to sell stockpiles of ivory, from poaching or legal hunting, since elephant populations in those areas were stable or over-abundant. Today, legal and illegal ivory is on the market, and it is difficult to tell the difference. Some believe the sale of any ivory drives demand and causes increased poaching of elephants.

Wild Elephant Populations

Although elephant populations are declining in parts of their range, major populations in eastern and southern Africa, accounting for over two- thirds of all known elephants on the continent, have been surveyed and are currently increasing at an average annual rate of 4% per year (Blanc >. 2005, 2007). More than 15,000 elephants are estimated to have been added to the population in 2006 and, if current rates of increase continue, the number of elephants born in these populations between 2005 and 2010 will be larger than the currently estimated total number of elephants in central and west Africa combined. In other words, the increases in southern and eastern Africa are likely to outweigh any likely declines in the other two regions.

While overall populations of elephants in Africa may be on the increase, in the areas where there are too many or not enough elephants, the conditions of the ecosystem suffer. Elephants are keystone species for their native habitat, meaning that other species are dependent on their well being. In order for the ecosystems in each region of elephant to be healthy, so must the elephant populations in those areas. If poaching continues in areas where elephants are already rare, the ecosystem is in even more trouble.

Wild Population Number: 470,000-690,000
IUCN Status: Vulnerable
Population Trend - Increasing


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What's Being Done?

People around the world are working together to protect the future of elephants in Africa. Community-based conservation efforts include recruiting, training and deploying game scouts to watch out for poachers and wildlife between protected areas. Some conservation organizations are also working with communities in elephant habitat to minimize the human-elephant conflict and striving to keep elephants at a safe distance from humans and crops.

Through our Quarters for Conservation program in 2012-2013, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo supported the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF). AWF works with communities that live in close contact with elephants to recruit, train, and equip wildlife scouts. Scouts monitor elephants and can prevent them from destroying crops, thereby preventing farmers from viewing them as pests, and they are instrumental in deterring poachers.The funding from Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, awarded in May 2013, is helping to build a scout training camp in southern Kenya. This will enable AWF to prepare more community scouts to prevent poaching and serve as liaisons between wildlife and local communities. To learn more about African Wildlife Foundation’s efforts to protect elephants, visit: http://www.awf.org/wildlife-conservation/elephant

Other organizations are researching the movement of elephants - tracking them with satellite collars, looking at opportunities for safe movement through wildlife corridors and, when necessary, translocating elephants from abundant populations to less populated areas.

  • A conservation organization in Botswana called “Elephants Without Borders” tracks the migration patterns, behavior and ecology of pachyderms.  EWB is the country’s leading cross-border research project focused on elephant conservation and management. They have satellite collars on more than 60 elephants in Botswana, Namibia and Zambia, as well as along the Angolan border with Namibia. This project has made the very first attempt to record and map elephant movements across these international boundaries. Mapping large-scale movements across four African countries provides a strong set of information to help make decisions about land use management.

  • African Wildlife Federation is working to connect two invaluable ecosystems in Kenya through the Amboseli-Chyulu Wildlife Corridor. This corridor is important for elephants and other wildlife as a natural dispersal route between Amboseli National Park and Tsavo West National Park. The corridor allows for free movement, and is one of the last natural strongholds of lion, zebra, elephant, giraffe and other species.  Human population growth, agricultural expansion and a tourism boom are encroaching on this critical area. AWF is working with the people in this area to protect the land and wildlife.

  • The Amboseli Elephant Research Project is the longest study of wild elephants in the world. They work to understand the lives and ensure the future of 1,500 elephants in the Amboseli ecosystem fed by the waters of Kilimanjaro.

At a global level, many countries including the United States, are working together to stop illegal wildlife trade, like the poaching and selling of ivory tusks. CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) works with countries and scientific specialists around the globe to monitor and regulate trade and wild populations. While the fate of wild African elephants is still uncertain, all of these groups are making an effort to ensure their future for years to come.

To learn more about ivory trade, visit:


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What You Can Do to Help African Elephants (click expand)

  1. Don't buy items made from elephant ivory because "When the buying stops, the killing can too." While it seems like this might be too easy of a challenge because many Americans may not have access to ivory, it is out there. If youíre in antique or curio shops, some of the items may be made from ivory. While some ivory may be legal to sell, there is no real way to tell. So if you care about elephants, donít by anything made from ivory, even if youíre told itís legal. Thatís part of the problem and by saying no, you can be part of the solution. Ė Be a smart consumer.

  2. Show your support for World Wildlife Fund and TRAFFIC’s “Kill the the trade that kills the elephant.” Campaign by posting a “twibbon” to your Facebook profile picture:  

  3. Consider a once-in-a-lifetime African safari that supports local communities in the region and helps make elephants more valuable alive than dead.

  4. Follow CITES on Facebook for regular updates on ivory trade agreements. Look for opportunities to share your comments.

  5. Share this webpage cmzoo.org/elephants with friends and family.  Share
    Encourage them to take the time to learn about elephant conservation like you have.

  6. Buy Elephant Chili Pepper! Elephants don’t like chili peppers, but most humans do! The Elephant Pepper Development Trust aims to promote the livelihood of farmers living in elephant range through training, the deployment of appropriate conflict mitigation methods and development of agricultural techniques which promote elephant conservation. By buying the chili pepper sauce from this site, you are supporting the rural farmers living in the area and elephants!

  7. Donate to organizations working to protect wild elephants. Any of the organizations listed below are credible and would appreciate your support.

Field Conservation Work:

Global Awareness Campaigns working to solve the poaching issue:


To learn more about African elephants, visit: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/12392/0

Map of African elephant range: http://maps.iucnredlist.org/map.html?id=12392

To learn more about the elephant poaching crisis, check out these Nartional Geographic videos:

- "Elephants In Crisis" http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2012/10/ivory/ivory-video  

- "Battle for the Elephants Episode 1: The Plight of the Elephant" video below.