This interactive introduces students to a variety techniques used by ecologists to survey animal populations using the African elephant as an example. Elephants are the world’s largest land mammal, a keystone species, and their populations are under threat due to poaching and habitat loss.

In the first section, called “Where are they?” students learn about the role that elephants play in the ecosystem and why it is important to survey elephant populations for monitoring and conservation. They then explore two case studies that show how researchers survey elephant ranges at the population and individual levels. Each case study describes the methods they used and the advantages and disadvantages for each method.

In the second section, called “How many?” students learn about designing surveys to sample populations. They then explore four case studies about different methods that researchers use to estimate elephant populations. Interactive maps and videos make this an engaging experience for students.

The final section allows students to explore how elephant populations have changed over time and the current trends in population change based on an aerial survey across Africa.


The case studies in this interactive are all based on scientific research and elephant management plans. Key papers that these case studies were based on include:

Blanc, J.J., Barnes, R.F.W., Craig, G.C., Dublin, H.T., Thouless, C.R., Douglas-Hamilton, I. and Hart, J.A. (2007). African Elephant Status Report 2007: an update from the African Elephant Database. Occasional Paper Series of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, No. 33. IUCN/SSC African Elephant Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. Vi + 276 pp.

PAEAS Management Team. (2014). Aerial Survey Standards and Guidelines for the Pan-African Elephant Survey 2014.

Craig, G.C. (2012). Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants: Aerial Survey Standards for the MIKE Programme. Version 2.0. CITES MIKE programme, Nairobi.

Thompson, M.E., Schwager, S.J., Payne, K.B. and Turkalo, A. (2009). Acoustic estimation of wildlife abundance: methodology for vocal mammals in forested habitats. African Journal of Ecology. 48: 654-661.

Thompson, M.E., Schwager, S.J., and Payne, K.B. (2009). Heard but not seen: an acoustic survey of the African forest elephant. African Journal of Ecology. 48: 224-231.

Maisels F., Strindberg, S., Blake, S., Wittemyer, G., Hart, J., et al. (2013). Devastating Decline of Forest Elephants in Central Africa. PLoS ONE. 8(3): e59469. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0059469

Douglas-Hamilton, I. (1979). The African elephant action plan. IUCN/WWF/NYZS Elephant Survey and Conservation Programme. Final report to US Fish and Wildlife Service. IUCN, Nairobi.