Regional Conservation Assessment: Mapping Asian Elephant Habitat

Asian elephant populations are declining rapidly. Recent estimates place wild elephant population to be between 30,000 and 50,000. Once abundant throughout all of Southeast Asia, these elephants are now only found in small pockets of remaining wild habitat widely dispersed across 13 countries.

Ivory poaching is a grave problem for elephant conservation, but the most serious threat to the remaining wild populations comes from continued habitat loss due to increasing population pressures, agricultural land conversion, replacement of forests by palm-oil plantations, and large-scale commercial logging and deforestation.

Example of the identification of critical elephant habitats in Myanmar using satellite imagery and field surveys.Habitat loss increases the fragmentation of the remaining pockets of suitable habitat. Cultivation, irrigation canals, and dams have already blocked many traditional migratory pathways fragmenting the once wide-ranging elephant population into smaller and more isolated groups. Illegal encroachment and forest degradation have intensified the conflict between rural people and elephants, sometimes even in protected areas.

Despite the continued decline and increasing threats to the remaining wild populations, little information is available on the true number of elephants in the wild, the extent of suitable wildlands for the conservation of these endangered populations, and which areas have the best potential for long-term conservation of Asian elephants.

This map was created to answer the following questions: 

  • Where are the largest untouched pieces of wild lands that constitute suitable elephant habitat?
  • How much of these remaining untouched elephant wild lands are protected within the Southeast Asian protected area systems?