How We're Helping to Save the African Elephant

Conservation Status: IUCN Red List – Vulnerable

Threats to Survival: Habitat loss and fragmentation; poaching; human-elephant conflict; climate change


A Long History of Involvement

An umbrella species and ecosystem engineer, the conservation of the African elephant is of global significance. For more than a decade, conserving this iconic species has been a high priority for San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. Synergy between scientific studies conducted in the wilderness and with our elephant herds at the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park give us a unique opportunity to increase our understanding of the species, while developing conservation solutions that can be applied on the ground in Kenya and elsewhere where they range. The Population Sustainability team is working closely with our wildlife care teams and Reproductive Sciences to meet our conservation goals.  

Sustaining Wild Elephants

Over the last century, the African elephant has faced an array of challenges to their persistence. Habitat degradation, growing human populations and expanding infrastructure, rampant poaching (fueled by the illegal wildlife trade), and drought (driven by climate change), all currently threaten the species. While the relative importance of each of these challenges varies over time, the need for biologically informed management of the species and its habitat is critically important. A central dilemma confronting conservation biologists studying elephant habitat use is determining which factors regulate wildlife movement patterns and how those movement patterns will be impacted by human development and environmental change. We have partnered with Save the Elephants to monitor elephant ranging patterns. Tracking individuals-- via GPS collars and associated behavioral observations-- is key to determining herd composition and social dynamics. Scientific findings from these studies will inform recommendations for managing human development in key elephant habitat in northern Kenya.

Orphan Rescue, Rehabilitation, and Rewilding

In northern Kenya, poaching, challenges to human-elephant coexistence, and climate change have resulted in an increasing number young orphaned elephants. The youngest of these orphans cannot survive without their mothers. We are working with the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary and other critical partners to support the development of best practices for the rescue, rehabilitation and rewilding of these orphans. Working together, we are learning about the health, nutritional, behavioral and social needs of orphan elephants, and we are applying our findings to release-management to foster social integration and development towards lives as healthy, wild elephants.

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