Counting 11,000 elephants in five days

IFAW has pledged US$20,000 support for provision of night vision goggles to Tsavo rangers on patrol to assist in sensing and tracking poachers even after dark.

Counting elephants in an area that spans over 48,000 square kilometres, nearly twice the size of the state of Massachusetts, is no easy task. Doing it in a span of five days is remarkable! 

And that is exactly what happened between 5th and 9th February 2014!

IFAW partnered with over 120 participants from Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and other organizations to conduct an aerial census and counted over 11,000 elephants in the expansive Tsavo-Mkomazi area. The Tsavo ecosystem is home to Kenya’s largest elephant population, covers four per cent of Kenya’s land mass and; is critical in elephant management and conservation.

Speaking at the announcement of the results, IFAW EA Head of Programmes Steve Njumbi stated:

“As IFAW we appreciate being a part of this process. We congratulate KWS as there have been efforts to increase the scientific quality of the exercise with the use of streamers, cameras and recorders.  The last supporter of truthfulness is science so let the figures be used to speak the truth.”


Steve was also appreciative of the collaboration between the different partners.

The Assistant Director Tsavo Conservation Area Captain Robert Obrein was full of praise for the pilots, the observers and the data entry officials for their team work in ensuring the exercise was a success.

“The weather (in Tsavo) in February is expected to be hot and dry which should make the counting exercise manageable. However, this week has been different with most mornings cloudy and raining which would sometimes delay the exercise. The pilots and front seat observers did an excellent job!” he stated.


The preliminary result of 11,076 elephants was a decline from 12,573 in 2011 when the last census was conducted. The decline in numbers could be attributed to two main factors. On the one hand, a cyclic self-regulated and ecological pattern that saw a deep decrease in 2002, 2008 and now 2014, followed by inclines as witnessed in the other census years.

Such cycles are caused by a wide range of attributes including drought, length of inter-calving intervals and sex ratios of breeding individuals.

On the other hand, the last three years has seen a major poaching menace in the Tsavos that could have contributed to the toll on its elephant population.

Even worse is that poachers are now targeting not just mature elephants or the matriarchs in a herd with grown tusks, but entire families including infants. This is bound to result in a decline on populations by affecting population recruitment. Poachers have also taken to poaching after night-fall, which further complicates the situation. IFAW has pledged US$20,000 support for provision of night vision goggles to Tsavo rangers on patrol to assist in sensing and tracking poachers even after dark.

KWS Deputy Director in charge of Devolution and Community Service Benjamin Kavu noted the existence of a significant number of wildlife outside the park.

“There is a need to establish wildlife conservation areas to cater for these populations which are outside protected areas.”

Over the last two years, IFAW has sponsored local communities that live between Tsavo East and Tsavo West to sensitization workshops that has resulted in the setting aside of 10,000 acres of Bachuma corridor to enable elephants and wildlife migrate safely whilst presenting an opportunity for tourism revenue to the community.

It was not all seriousness at the census though. Participants at the census laid a wager as to the total number of elephants to be counted this year. The bet was won by one of the pilots who came closest to the actual figure at 10,955.


For more information on IFAW efforts to protect elephants, visit our campaign page.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Pauline Verheij, Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Country Representative, Germany
Country Representative, Germany
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy