This is the fifth update on the status of the African elephant produced under the aegis of the African Elephant Specialist Group (AfESG) of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC).
Like its predecessors this update is based on data from the African Elephant Database (AED), the most comprehensive database on the conservation status of the African elephant. Since 2009, the AfESG has been working on a major shift in the infrastructure of the AED. The 2007 African Elephant Status Report (AESR 2007) argued for a shift to a multi-species database, expanding the infrastructure to include other species. The AED is now housed in a ‘global’ elephant database, the African and Asian Elephant Database (AAED), available through a web interface. At present, Asian elephant range is available, and the IUCN/SSC Asian Elephant Specialist Group is working to integrate population data. An open source project, the code is available for use and modification by other Specialist Groups or the general public. The new system provides a number of advantages, not least of which is the near immediate publication of survey results as we receive them, rather than waiting for the publication of an updated set of pooled estimates.
The current 2013 provisional update includes data received up until the end of 2012. A number of areas were surveyed in 2012, but reports are not yet available. Those reports will be integrated into a final update, to be published later this year.
The continuing challenge for the AED is the interpretation of apparent trends in elephant numbers, particularly at the continental level. We have continued the system established in the AESR 2007 for tracking the attributed causes of reported change. These are aggregated at the subregional and continental level so that readers can separate those apparent changes where valid comparisons can be made (REPEAT SURVEYS) from the rest (e.g. guesses, different survey techniques, different areas, etc.)
There has been no change in the system for categorization of different data types. As such the elaboration on pages 6-19 of the AESR 2007 is a useful resource in interpreting the current update. The only change is a slight change in coding for Informed and Other Guesses. Informed guesses are noted as O (data reliability D) and other guesses are noted as O (data reliability E).
The report includes detailed references to data emanating from the CITES MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants) programme and the Elephant Trade Information System, operated by TRAFFIC on behalf of the CITES Parties. The AfESG, responding to a mandate from the CITES Parties in Decision 14.78 (Rev. CoP15), has worked closely with both monitoring programmes to provide periodic updates on the status of the African elephant to the CITES community. This work has provided a much deeper understanding of the entire illegal ivory trade chain from source populations to consumer markets.