Conservation management is strongly shaped by the interpretation of population trends. In the Serengeti ecosystem, Tanzania, aerial total counts indicate a striking increase in elephant abundance compared to all previous censuses. We developed a simple age-structured population model to guide interpretation of this reported increase, focusing on three possible causes: (1) in situ population growth, (2) immigration from Kenya, and (3) differences in counting methodologies over time. No single cause, nor the combination of two causes, adequately explained the observed population growth. Under the assumptions of maximum in situ growth and detection bias of 12.7% in previous censuses, conservative estimates of immigration from Kenya were between 250 and 1,450 individuals. Our results highlight the value of considering demography when drawing conclusions about the causes of population trends. The issues we illustrate apply to other species that have undergone dramatic changes in abundance, as well as many elephant populations.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation