Key Concepts

This activity addresses the following key concepts:

  • Elephants are a keystone species because they are ecosystem engineers that dramatically alter their environment and influence community diversity.
  • Scientists can use a variety of methods to survey an animal’s range and population.
  • Scientists design a survey based on the question being asked, species they are studying, habitat, and the resources available to conduct the survey. Each survey method has advantages and disadvantages that researchers must take into account before choosing a method.
  • Scientists can survey a population by doing a total count (surveying the entire study area), or a sample count (surveying parts of the survey area), then estimating the size of the entire population.
  • Habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and illegal hunting have greatly reduced the elephant population in Africa.
  • Population estimates help wildlife managers and policy makers make informed decisions about how to conserve a species.

Students will be able to:

  • describe some of the major challenges facing elephant populations;
  • describe how researchers collect information about elephant ranges on the population and individual levels;
  • describe how researchers design surveys to estimate animal populations;
  • describe the various methods for surveying elephant populations and determine the appropriate method for different scenarios;
  • describe the advantages and disadvantages of each survey method;
  • describe how the elephant population is changing in across Africa and what factors are contributing to their decline.