Uganda’s elephant numbers go up, but poaching a growing threat

Uganda’s elephant population has increased slightly since 2006, according to estimates from the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) African Elephant Specialist Group.

The group says elephants in Uganda’s national parks have increased by about 1000, from 3,944 in 2005 to 4,923 (plus or minus 2,012) last year, even as they have dropped across Africa. The elephant population across Africa “has seen the worst declines in 25 years, mainly due to poaching over the past ten years,” IUCN says.

IUCN however places a caveat on Uganda’s higher numbers, saying the increase is not “statistically significant” because of the margin of error.

The estimates are contained in the African Elephant Status Report 2016, which was launched at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, which is being held in Johannesburg.

Uganda’s estimates apply to only 79% of the estimated and known elephant range. The report says elephant population estimates for the remaining 21% are not available.

Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area has the largest number of elephants – 2904 – followed by Murchison Falls Conservation Area with 1,352 animals and Kidepo Valley National Park with 621.


The estimates for Africa have gone down by 93,000, however, which rises to 111,000 if you add previously uncounted populations. The main cause of the decline is poaching for ivory, which increased dramatically ten years ago. Additionally, the report says habitat loss poses an “increasingly serious, long-term threat to the species.”

Eastern Africa leads in poaching, and has seen a 50% decline in elephant numbers during the period. But this decline was mostly restricted to Tanzania, where there has been a 60% fall in the elephant population.

In Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda numbers have been stable or declining, according to IUCN. Not so for South Sudan and Somalia, where “political instability continues to cause problems for elephant conservation.”

Central Africa also has a poaching problem, which has been made worse by “political insecurity and lack of government control over remote areas.” The region had a serious elephant poaching problem as far back as 2003 long before it manifested in Eastern Africa.

“The Democratic Republic of Congo used to hold one of the most significant forest elephant populations in Africa, which has now been reduced to tiny remnants of its former size,” IUCN says. “The savanna populations of Chad have taken heavy losses and those in the Central African Republic have almost completely disappeared.”

In Uganda, “elephant poaching is currently at a significantly lower level than it was during the years of civil unrest and insecurity during the late 1970s and early 1980s but an upward trend has been detected in recent years.”

The report says Uganda has been “identified as a country with a worrying involvement in illegal ivory trade” in recent analyses of ivory seizure data. As a result, it was asked to prepare a National Ivory Action Plan which it completed in 2013. Last year it also developed a draft national strategy for elephant management.

Southern Africa has the largest number of Africa’s elephants, with about 70% of the estimated elephants (293,000 animals). Eastern Africa has 86,000 (20%) elephants, Central Africa has 24,000 (6%) elephants, while West Africa has 11,000 (under 3%).

In East Africa Tanzania has the largest number (50,433), followed by Kenya (22,809), South Sudan (7,103), Uganda (4,923), Ethiopia (1,017), and Rwanda (88).