The African elephant is one of the continent’s best studied animals. However, conservation efforts have been based on flawed data. New research out of the University of Pretoria has, for the first time, shown how many elephants there should be in an ecosystem, rather than how many there actually are. And the numbers are not pretty. The study, which looked at 73 protected areas spanning 21 African countries, found that they have 730,000 fewer elephants in total than they should. One-third of the protected areas have less than 5% of the total elephants that their ecosystems require. "Until now, there was no way to know how many elephants there might have been before the historical ivory trade and colonial-era hunters decimated populations," says lead author Ashley Robson, a research assistant at the Conservation Ecology Research Unit at the University of Pretoria. "Even the oldest count data comes from a time after humans had a massive influence on populations … and [conservation] man...

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