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Survey of five KAZA countries shows elephant populations are stable

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Recent results from an aerial survey by KAZA, indicate that the elephant numbers in the Zambezi and Okavango Basin in Southern Africa are stable. Image credit: Leon Louw for WhyAfrica

Survey of five KAZA countries shows elephant populations are stable

Leaders of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA), led by Ministers from Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia as well as heads of delegation from Angola and Zimbabwe, expressed optimism when they revealed results of the KAZA Elephant Survey in Livingstone, Zambia recently.

KAZA TFCA includes Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, which have common international borders along the Okavango and Zambezi River basins. The estimated elephant population for the region was calculated at 227,900, indicating that the population appears stable.

Delivering his opening remarks at the launch, Zambia’s Minister of Tourism, Rodney Sikumba, who is also the KAZA Ministerial Committee Chair, said that flying over this expansive terrain, meticulously adhering to rigorous scientific standards, while surveying Africa’s largest contiguous elephant population, is a testament to the collective dedication and perseverance of all involved.

KAZA undertook an extensive aerial survey to provide an accurate estimate of the number of live elephants, elephant carcasses, and other large herbivores in this region that is home to more than half of the savanna elephant herds in Africa.

According to Dr Nyambe Nyambe, Executive Director of the KAZA Secretariat the rich dataset collected now gives KAZA the opportunity to understand the health of its ecosystems and implement best practices for wildlife management and human-wildlife coexistence.

The overall carcass ratio was 10.47% which leadership says warrants closer inspection since it may indicate heightened mortality rates.

Darren Potgieter, KAZA Elephant Survey coordinator says that several factors could contribute to the somewhat elevated mortality rate. “Factors such as aging populations, improved sampling methodologies, environmental conditions, and poaching could all be at play here,” says Potgieter.

Synchronised flight plan (Survey of five KAZA countries shows elephant populations are stable)

The KAZA-wide survey was the first of its kind to cover five countries in the KAZA TFCA through a synchronised flight plan using the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) Aerial Survey Standards, and deploying rigorous quality assurance metrics including flight speed, heights, transect adherence, and a balance of observations between right and left rear seat observers.

Each transect in the flight plan is flown with a pilot, a recorder in the right front seat, and two observers in the rear seats.

During the operation KAZA flew more than 67 000km of transects which is nearly twice the circumference of the globe in two months using 16 remote bases across the region and trained pilots, observers, and field staff.

“We are extremely satisfied with the quality of the sampling effort. The fact that Partner States seconded more than 50% of the 47-person operations team makes this that much more rewarding,” says Potgieter.

A need for robust data (Survey of five KAZA countries shows elephant populations are stable)

The survey was flown from August to October 2022 during the dry season when elephants can be more readily seen. Flights were tracked by EarthRanger for both safety and quality assurance purposes. The data captured was tracked and reviewed daily, and the full analysis was completed in early 2023 following which a peer review process was undertaken prior to final publishing.

According to Minister Philda Kereng of Botswana the survey would help foster human-wildlife co-existence. “It would also facilitate integrated land-use planning including science-based re-evaluation of fencing policy, nurture sustainable tourism development, promote connectivity in the landscape, and align with the various objectives of the KAZA elephant conservation and management framework,” said Kereng.

Minister Heather Sibungo of Namibia also welcomed the survey findings: “This survey comes not long after Namibia successfully held the first national Human Wildlife Conflict Conference, where it emerged that there was an urgent need for robust scientific data to guide policy and decision-making including management of human wildlife conflict.”

The KAZA Secretariat and Partner States expressed their sincere gratitude to World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the implementation partner for the survey, and the KAZA Elephant Survey donors and international cooperation partners comprising the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and Vulcan, the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development through KfW, the Dutch Postcode Lottery through the Dreamfund Project, USAID’s Combating Wildlife Crime in Namibia and the Kavango-Zambezi Area Project, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Environment and Protected Areas Authority (EPAA) of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, WWF – US, Panthera, and the EU-funded CITES MIKE Programme. The Peace Parks Foundation has been the Implementing Agent for the Federal Republic of German’s support to KAZA.

The country-by-country numbers are estimated as:


KAZA TFCA 2022: 227,900 2014/2015: 216,970
Country KAZA Survey IUCN – 2016 AESR
Angola 5,983 3,395
Botswana 131,909 129,939
Namibia 21,090 19,549
Zambia 3,840  6,688
Zimbabwe 65,028 57,398

WhyAfrica visited Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Malawi and Botswana as part of the 2023 WhyAfrica Road Trip during which the company gathered information and data about the natural resources and development in the Zambezi Basin. To find our more sign up to become a WhyAfrica member or subscribe to our newsletters and magazines.

Survey of five KAZA countries shows elephant populations are stable

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 Survey of five KAZA countries shows elephant populations are stable

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