How Many Elephants Are Left in the World? Endangered Elephant Population

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Animals | February 14, 2024

Woman looking at a world map that has an elephant superimposed over it and wondering how many elephants are left in the world, are elephants endangered, how long do elephants live, and where do elephants live, as well as is there a types of elephants guide?

Researching how many Elephants are left in the world may bring you to a sad conclusion.

If you’re wondering the answer, it’s because we as people care deeply about these large, fascinating creatures.

There is something that innately attracts human beings to other intelligent creatures, be they dolphins, parrots, or elephants (and others).

We have a desire to protect these animals, but the sad fact is that we need to protect them from ourselves.

Over the past 100 years, we’ve begun to take extensive action in the preservation of these magnificent animals. It would be difficult to claim we’re a good and just society were we to allow the extinction of elephants to go on unhindered.

This guide explains exactly how many elephants are left in the world, and includes initiatives and programs that are working to make those numbers increase so that the majestic elephant won’t be lost forever.



Elephant in oval frame on green background.
  • Family: Elephantidae
  • Genus: Loxodonta (African Genus) and Elaphas (Asian Genus)
  • Common Traits: Large, tusked, trunk-like nose
  • Diet: Herbivorous

How Long Do Elephants Live?

You may wonder how long do elephants live, and that’s an extremely extensive discussion. To begin with the simplest introduction; in the wild, an elephant can live to be 70 years old.

While it may be technically accurate that many animals will live longer in captivity than in the wild solely due to the lack of predators, elephants are an exception. Elephants live much shorter lives than their wild counterparts, with a significant difference in recorded lifespan.

African Elephants live to be roughly 56 years old in the wild, while Asian Elephants live to be roughly 42.

Studies have shown that elephants in captivity will live an average of 17 years, a life cut drastically short.1

What Are the Oldest Elephants?

Scientists are not certain why this occurs, but two of their hypotheses involve obesity and the health issues that are packaged with it, as well as the stress of keeping an intelligent animal held within captivity.

A herd of African Savanna Elephant walking near body of water showing their brown skin, long trunks, and big ears with trees and shrubs in the background.

(Image: Anja23)

The oldest wild elephant in the world, who goes by the name Vastala,2 lived to be over 100 years old, an age no other elephant has achieved.

That being said, this is only the longest-known recorded elephant, and if we had been more concerned with studying and recording them instead of hunting them for their ivory, we may have found elephants who lived even longer than that.

The second oldest elephant, Dakshayani, had held the record for 2nd oldest elephant before passing away in 2019.3 Dakshayani had spent her life being bought and sold until the Travancore Royal family of India donated her to their Thirvarattu Kavu temple in 1949.

Dakshayani was only 19 years old at the time, and spent the rest of her life possessed by the temple where she took part in their rituals and events. Complaints and criticisms had begun to mount near the end of her life with regard to her retirement, as Dakshayani was beginning to have trouble eating, being supplemented with hand-feeding.

While researchers can’t be certain, they believe the next runner-up is Raju,4 an Asian Elephant who was rescued in his 50’s.

After spending his entire life in captivity as a slave elephant, it was said that the elephant wept when his shackles were being cut off.

This shows you how much animals value their freedom and want nothing more than to live within their natural habitat. As mentioned earlier, we can’t be certain of Raju’s leading age, as there is most likely an elephant within the wild who has escaped poaching and is well into his 60’s.

In the wild elephants will still face hardships brought about by man, including illegal hunting for their ivory, destruction of their habitats, as well as climate change-induced drought.

The shorter life span is due to poaching or illegal hunting for ivory or other uses, destruction of habitat, and drought. The largest threat to the life of an elephant is illegal poaching, but ivory is not the only reason elephants are hunted.

Asian Elephants are killed for both their hides, as well as their organs which will be used for questionable medicinal purposes. The destruction of natural habitats occurs in both continents where elephants reside as expanding cities eliminate elephants’ territories and removes their natural source of water.

Elephants are animals that engage in a high level of social interaction, and its theorized that the stress of holding them in captivity results in a shortened lifespan. When thriving in the wild elephants are in a constant state of movement, migrating miles upon miles throughout the year.

Confining them in captivity would cause any conscious being a great deal of stress, another factor that would induce a shorter lifespan.

An adult elephant showing wrinkly gray skin and a calf showing gray skin with some hair on its back walking on sandy ground with tree trunks in the background.

(Image: Marcel Langthim22)

There have also been extensive studies regarding the effects of Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirsues, or EEHV,16 a highly fatal pulmonary disease. While nearly all species carry this disease in some form, the strains that African Elephants carry can be far more fatal to Asian Elephants, and their forced cohabitation is something that would never occur in the wild.

This horrific disease causes a rapid onset of symptoms including pink nodules and internal bleeding that prove ultimately fatal. Not all elephants that contract the virus will die, only a portion of elephants enter what’s known as the “acute phase” of EEHV.5

There are no treatments for this disease, and since it’s currently unknown as to how it spreads, EEHV will continue to ravage.

This is the sad reality is that holding elephants in captivity drastically shortens their lifespan. There have been studies that concluded that pachyderms who lived in European zoos die far sooner than if they were living in a protected reserve within their natural habitat.

This is believed to have derived from their eroding mental health. Elephants thrive in large herds, so being confined within a zoo as an individual or in a small group is detrimental to their overall well-being.

Are Elephants Endangered? How Many Elephants Are Left in the World?

You may wonder “Are elephants endangered?” and the answer is a resounding yes. African Elephants are the largest land mammal in the world, with males weighing up to 6 tonnes and reaching 3 full meters in height.

The role of the elephant within its environment is essential to produce a thriving forest ecosystem. We use the term ‘landscape architects’ to describe elephants.

The long distances they travel and how they feed creates clearings in wooded areas that allow plants to grow and forests to be regenerated through new growth.6

Another essential factor of the elephants’ lifecycle is seed dispersal. When an elephant eats seed-bearing fruits or plants, the seeds will survive the digestive processes of the elephant and end up back in the soil.

This process spreads plants far and wide across Africa and Asia, with the elephant being able to digest seeds much larger than smaller-sized animals. The ongoing conversion of the elephants’ habitat for agricultural and commercial use has devastated their food sources and livable spaces.

Locals depend on the natural resources found within the elephants’ habitat, and were they to be removed then the people in the surrounding areas would being to suffer from a lack of resources. Over time we’ve learned how interwoven the connection between species truly is, and the disruption of the delicate balance can have unforeseen consequences.

The IUCN Red List, a critical indicator regarding the health of our world’s biodiversity, currently includes 134,425 species, and up to 42,100 are at risk for species extinction. Following the decline in the population of elephants over several decades with poaching for ivory and loss of habitat being the major contributors.17

Counting how many elephants are left in the world will be an increasingly sad job unless we step in to save them.

African Forest Elephant numbers have fallen by more than 85% over a period of 31 years, and the African Savanna Elephant has decreased by up to 60% in the last 50 years. Both of these species have suffered immense declines in their population since 2008 as poaching efforts spiked, and while it peaked in 2011, the elephant is still in continued danger.

Current Number of Elephants Left in the Wild

Currently, there are only 415,000 elephants left in the world.

Due to these factors the African Forest Elephant is currently listed as critically endangered, the African Savanna Elephant is listed as endangered, and lastly, the Asian Elephant is listed as Endangered. Ivory has been exported from both the African and Asian continents for millennia, being recorded as far back as the 14th century.7

You may wonder “What is ivory used for?”, and human beings have had a long infatuation with the material, making nearly everything out of it. Piano keys, jewelry, billiard balls, as well as a large amount exported to Japan for their production in hankos, a type of official seal.

Graphics of products made from elephant ivory showing an adult elephant on the left with hankos, piano keys, billiard balls, jewelry, and figurines made from elephant tusks.

If you want to know how much is ivory worth, we’ll have to pull the curtain aside to peek at the illegal trade market. It is estimated that the global ivory trade is currently worth upwards of 23 billion dollars per year, with an approximate price of $3,300 per pound of ivory, there is plenty of incentive for poachers.

Networks have sprung up throughout the world whose sole existence is the trade and movement of ivory. We’re also seeing trends of an increase in seized ivory by law enforcement signaling either a liquidation in their ivory stocks or an increase in poaching.

Corruption or lack of proper law enforcement allows these organizations to thrive, gaining a foothold in countries where poverty is a significant factor.

Between the years 2006 and 2021, over 1500 rangers have passed away protecting endangered species with homicides being the most frequent cause.8 Facing both corruption of local governments as well as insurgents or organized crime, these rangers are coming into constant contact with danger.

In the heat of this arms race between park ranges and poachers, the current assessment is that the impact of conservation efforts has been successful.

Anti-poaching measures alongside expanding the supportive legislation that has sought to foster coexistence between animals and people have been key in helping preserve the lives of elephants and their habitat. In some areas, the African Forest Elephant has stabilized in areas with high conservation efforts.

Savanna Elephants are also stabilizing, and in some areas, even growing.

Where Do Elephants Live? How Many Elephants Are Left in the World?

We may want to know the answer to “Where do elephants live?” to better help in their conservation efforts. There are three types of elephants, the African Forest Elephant, the African Savanna Elephant, and the Asian Elephant.

Their names should hint at the two locations you’ll find these gorgeous animals, the African, and the Asian continents.

Wide shot of a pair of African Bush Elephant standing under the shade of a tree in the Safari showing their natural habitat.

(Image: xiSerge24)

It was estimated by zoologists that there were over 17 different species of elephants in the wild, but at this stage in our history, there are only three surviving species. African Elephants are found all throughout sub-Saharan savannas within Africa, the Central and West African rainforests, as well as the Sahel Desert of Mali.

Of all the species of elephant, the African Forest Elephant is the smallest one, residing mostly in the equatorial forests of Western and Central Africa. The African Forest Elephant is considered one of the tropical rainforest animals and prefers habitats with extremely dense rainforest cover.

There are populations of African Forest Elephants within Ghana, Mali, Mauritania, Uganda, Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Cameroon, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and with the vast majority of them residing within the forests of Gabon.

The African Savanna Elephant is the world’s biggest elephant and is more widely distributed throughout the African continent. They prefer a more diverse habitat that includes grasslands and semi-desert areas.

You’ll find the African Savanna Elephant in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Zambia, South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Ethiopia.

Lastly, onto the Asian Elephant. These wonderful creatures will be found in both rainforests and scrub forests within South and Southeast Asia.

The Asian Elephant once grazed across a vast area of land, from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers all the way to the Yangtze-Kiang River found in China. As of now, their distribution has been confined to Nepal, India, Bhutan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Cambodia, and Laos.

India contains the largest number of Asian Elephants, with an estimated number of just over 27,000, which accounts for approximately 50% of the world’s remaining population.9

The habitat and range of Asian Elephants has historically shrunk within India, which are now confined within geographical zones. The population of elephants within India is kept within 29 elephant reserves that are spread across 65,000 sq. km of forests across India.

Elephants have been symbolized by India as it’s National Heritage Animal, granting it the highest protection under the Wildlife Protection Act.

Both the Asian and African Elephants will migrate, following the same migratory routes annually. The distances migrated will vary considerably depending on the environmental constraints.

Wide shot of the back of an elephant herd running across a vast dry field during migration season.

(Image: Tanja Wilbertz25)

During an extended dry season in Africa, elephants will migrate distances as far as 100km. When scientists studied Asian Elephants found within the forests of Southern India, they found they will still travel up to 50km even if they had abundant resources like water and food.

The African Elephant typically migrates during the beginning of the dry season which starts in June and ends in November. They travel towards locations with water sources that tend to not dry up, including rivers and larger bodies of water.

During the rainy season, which occurs during two phases during the year, October to December, and March to June, the elephant herds return to regions that have bloomed to feed on the fresh green vegetation. These migratory patterns allow time for forests and vegetation to regrow.

Types of Elephants (Including African Elephant)

It was commonly taught that there are only two species of Elephants; the Asian Elephant and the African Elephant.18,19 In 2000, scientists realized they had made a mistake, and recategorized the African Elephant into two separate species.

The largest of the two is the African Savanna Elephant, with the African Forest Elephant being the smaller. These two species are genetically quite different, comparative to tigers and lions, but they also share a lot of common features compared to their Asian relatives.

Graphics of types of elephants showing Asian Elephant, African Savanna Elephant, and African Forest Elephant and their conservation status.

The biggest differences between the Asian and African Elephants are the tusks, ears, and head shape.

The easiest way to distinguish Asian Elephants from African Elephants is by looking at their ears. The African Elephants, both Savanna and Forest variants, have much larger ears that are pointed at the bottom and curve up towards the crown of their head.

The Asian Elephants have much smaller, rounder ears.

Elephants’ ears have a very important purpose in dissipating the body heat that accumulates within their body. Elephant ears contain an abundance of blood vessels, allowing them to wave their ears when they get too hot and cool the blood within their internal system.

You can also differentiate between African and Asian Elephants by their head shape. Asian Elephants have a twin-domed head, meaning there’s a channel that runs up the center of the skull, whereas African Elephants have rounded heads.

Lastly, we can look at their tusks. Within the African Elephant species, both the male and females have tusks.

Among the Asian Elephant population, only males can grow them. Bear in mind that not all elephants, be they African or Asian, will end up developing tusks.

These three features are the major discerning differences between the two types of Elephants, but there are a series of minor differences which would be harder or impossible to distinguish from a distance. Skin texture, trunk characteristics, and number of toenails can be used to differentiate between the two kinds of elephants.

All three of the species have similar social interactions, with defined hierarchies. Elephant herds are known as matriarchies, with the oldest females leading the pack.

These herds will consist of female members of any age including male offspring. Male elephants that reach pubescence leave their herds and will typically operate within bachelor herds.

Older males of all types will tend to act solitary.

Front profile of an African Bush Elephant eating dry grass in the wild showing its gray wrinkly skin, tusks, trunk, and large fan-like ears.

(Image: Michael Siebert26)

If you’re asking yourself “What do elephants eat?”, then your first lead will be to understand they’re herbivores, meaning they exclusively eat plant matter. While they all have similar diets, there are some interesting things differences.

The African Savannah Elephant has been known to use its large size to strip bark straight off the trees and to even scale mountains in search of food while they travel along their migratory routes.

The African Forest Elephant’s diet is similar to the African Bush Elephant’s since they inhabit the same regions.

The Asian Elephant will devour plenty of grass, bamboo, and leaves, and are well known to get into crops of rice or sugar cane to the chagrin of the farmers. How many elephants are left in the world will begin to depend on how well we can maintain their habitat.

How Many Elephants Are Killed Each Year? How Many Elephants Are Left in the World?

Knowing how many elephants are killed each year is a tough thing to admit. Tens of thousands of elephants, old and young, are killed every year.

The math works out to one every 15 minutes, which is almost entirely driven by the demand for ivory. As the booming illegal ivory industry flourished, so too does the illicit gang activity, terrorism, human trafficking, and trade wars fueled by it.

How many elephants are left in the world are directly affected by this horrific practice.

Trade in ivory has been around for centuries. It reached its peak when Africa was colonized.20

This coincided with the industrial revolution in United Kingdom, Western Europe, and America creating a vast demand for ivory. The material has found popular usage in items such as jewelry, piano keys, and intricate carvings, and has even been referred to as “white gold”.

The worst and obvious victims of the trade were the elephants.

Swathes of elephants were wiped out in North Africa roughly 1,000 years ago before a European presence. After colonization, the calamitous culling of elephants began in South Africa during the 19th century.

The period in history between the two world wars saw a dramatic lull in the ivory trade, as it was considered a luxury product and was either difficult to obtain or simply not in demand.7

When it comes to the Asian Elephant, we’ve witnessed nearly a 50% decline, falling from 100,000 a century ago, to our current census of 50,000. Only male Asian Elephants carry tusks, which can weigh as much as 47 kilograms and reach a length of 5 feet.

The Asian Elephant’s tusk is in high demand for artistic endeavors such as intricate carvings and furniture.10

Both species of the African Elephant, the Forest and Savanna, were nearly obliterated by the Belgian colonialists as slave labor became extensively used to traffic ivory to North African ports. The main target for ivory, the Savannah Elephants, are well known for their huge and dominant tusks, which can measure up to 8 feet long.

Both male and female African Elephants have tusks, making them a more enticing option to hunt than their Asian counterparts.

Three elephants submerging more than half of their body in a body of water while seeking comfort from the heat of the sun.

(Image: Nel Botha27)

Over the last few decades in Tanzania, poachers have killed over 60% of the country’s prized elephants, all for their tusks. The population of elephants has dropped drastically from 109,000 to 43,000 in only 5 years.11

Were the trend to continue, then we could see the total annihilation and watch as elephants extinct.

Currently, China is the world’s biggest purveyor of ivory, fueling up to 70% of the illegal trade, followed by the Philippines and finally Thailand. Ivory has classically been a status symbol showing both rank and wealth.

Another major factor is Chinese medicine, which believes ivory can cure all manner of ailments.

Elephant tusks can fetch up to $1,500 per pound, where a single tusk could weigh up to 125 pounds. The greed fueled by this industry puts everyone at risk, with the poachers showing ruthlessness for all manner of life, including people.

In 2016, a British surveillance helicopter was shot down, killing the pilot.12

Governments and wildlife agencies are beginning to realize the damage this terrible loss of life causes. In nearly every continent, there has been a ban on ivory trade.

Despite these bans coming into place, the next step will be expanding the effort to maintain the African Elephants’ habitat, of which only 20% of it is under government protection.

Elephants are one of many animals that will be extinct by 2050 if we don’t help protect these beautiful creatures.

If you’re like to sponsor an animal, then that can be an effective way of combating the illegal ivory trade.

Which Animals Prey on Elephants?

Due to their massive size, it’s uncommon to find animals preying on mature elephants. Lions, hyenas, and similarly endangered animals like the tiger, will take the opportunity to hunt juvenile elephants.

It’s worth noting that the number of how many tigers are left in the world is roughly 1/10th the number of elephants.

Elephant Population by Location: Current Elephant Population by Country and Region

The elephant population by location is commonly tracked and studied to help against poaching efforts. If society puts in the effort to save the elephants, we need to use every tactic we can.

Not only are elephants amongst the most popular mammals on earth but we are also infatuated with them, for better or worse. People flock to zoos to see elephants, but it doesn’t compare to seeing them in the wild.

The vast majority of elephants are found within the African continent. The tourism trade is a bustling industry in Africa, with safaris being a major attraction.

The following information will depict rough estimates of the African Elephant population.13

Graphics showing a cutout map of the Africa and the number of African Elephants in its different regions on the left and a pie chart showing the percentage representation of the African Elephant Population in Africa.

Location in AfricaElephant population
West Africa11,489
Central Africa24,119
Eastern Africa86,373
Southern Africa293,447

These numbers are only rough estimates since elephants are migratory and in a constant state of travel between borders. Botswana is reportedly home to the largest elephant population, with as many as 130,000 elephants.

Botswana is also considered one of the last remaining bastions for elephants on our planet, as poaching and industrialization decimate their population.

The Asian Elephant population has been in constant decline, with almost a 50% drop in the past 75 years. Over 60% of the Asian Elephant population resides in India, and only five other countries contain major populations of them, including Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Indonesia.14

Graphics showing a cutout map of Asia and the number of Asian Elephants in India, Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand and other Asian countries on the left, a pie chart showing the percentage representation of the Asian Elephant Population in Asia, and a bar graph showing a breakdown of the number of Asian Elephants in other Asian countries namely, Vietnam, Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, and Laos.

CountryElephant population

There are more countries that contain a statistically negligible population of Asian Elephants, such as China, Laos, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Cambodia.

CountryElephant population

While these are alarming numbers, conservation efforts including new laws put in place to protect these animals has found populations in places like China doubling within the last 30 years. In 2021, a herd of wild Asian Elephants wandered hundreds of miles from a nature reserve and trekked across China, raiding crops and plundering fields.15

This adventure took the internet by storm, picking up the 12 elephants with monitoring drones and surveillance cameras. Another herd of 17 elephants was documented leaving a nature reserve, moving across 600 acres of rainforest.

This shows you how much space is needed for these migratory creatures. China now faces the difficult task of ensuring the conservation of these animals with such a high landmass, they must be monitored at all times.

The answer to “How many elephants are left in the world?” is a sad one, but as the times’ change and our perceptions and economics evolve, the trend should begin reverting.

Frequently Asked Questions About How Many Elephants Are Left in the World

What’s Being Done To Protect Elephants?

There are a variety of conservation measures that are being implemented to protect elephants. Some of the major focus has been placed on controlling ivory stockpiles, increasing the control over the borders of nature reserves, anti-poaching patrols, and preventative methods to reduce conflict.

What Is the Smallest Species of Elephant?

The smallest Elephant subspecies is the Bornean Pygmy Elephant.21 It’s interesting to note that even the smallest elephant in the world is still over 8 feet tall!


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