Centuries ago, the African elephant (Loxodonta africana) inhabited most of the African continent. Today, elephants are found only south of the Sahara and their range is fragmented and discontinuous. As a result of this range loss and fragmentation, along with poaching of elephants for ivory, elephant numbers declined across the continent. By the 1980s, the decline had provoked serious concern about the long-term survival of the species. This concern highlighted the need to monitor and report the continent-wide status of elephant populations.
The African Elephant Database (AED) aims to satisfy that need. It is a collaborative effort between conservation agencies and researchers in the 37 states that make up the present range of the African elephant. Information on elephant distribution and abundance is gathered by field surveys and questionnaires, and stored in a database using a Geographical Information System (GIS), along with information on other factors such as vegetation type, cover and protected area boundaries. With the African elephant facing increasing pressure from a variety of threats, monitoring elephant range and numbers provides wildlife managers with invaluable data for the effective conservation and management of remaining populations, and decision-makers with information on which to base national and international policies relevant to elephant conservation.
The AED is unique in its capacity to accommodate data of variable reliability - from estimates obtained through systematic total counts to "guesstimates".