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Good News For Africa's Elephant Population

New research provides the good news that Africa's elephant population has stabilised and has actually been gradually growing over the last 25 years.

The study, published last week in Science Advances, used 713 population surveys from 103 protected areas from Tanzania southwards to calculate rates of growth or decline from 1995-2020. This covered more than 290,000 savannah elephants, 70 percent of the total in Africa.

The scientists found that overall, populations had grown by 0.16 percent a year for the past quarter of a century. “Conservation has halted the decline of elephants in southern Africa over the last 25 years,” said Professor Stuart Pimm, of Duke University in the US, who was part of the team.

African elephants drinking from a river

The latest analysis also provides the strongest data so far showing that protected areas that are connected to other places are far better than isolated “fortress” parks at maintaining stable populations, by allowing the elephants to migrate back and forth between areas as they did naturally in the past.

“For decades, news from southern Africa was dominated by waves of poaching and other threats,” said Dr Robert Guldemond at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, and part of the study team. “But there’s been a lot of good work done that has basically turned the tide and that story has never really been told.”

Dr Ryan Huang, also at the University of Pretoria, said: “This is a good news story for a lot of elephants. We’re changing from just halting declines and to trying to achieve long term stability.”

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