Recent population estimates from the 73 protected areas we assessed collectively totaled <25% of the predicted ecological benchmark. We caution that the situation would likely appear much worse had it been possible to assess elephants across their entire known range, to include forest elephant populations, or to get more recent estimates that reflect the recent uptick in poaching. (The median year of the most recent estimates was 2011, with several populations last surveyed before the uptick in poaching since 2007  (Table F in S1 File)).
Overall, 70% of the current distributional range of African elephants may fall outside of protected areas . Yet, protected areas should be the stronghold for elephants on the continent, given that they should receive a concentration of funding, management, and law-enforcement. Accordingly, while the 73 protected areas in this analysis represent just 28% of the total range over which forest and savanna elephant populations have been assessed by the African Elephant Database (AED), their savanna elephant populations represent 50% of the total estimate of forest and savanna elephants combined [11, 12]. That populations are so far from ecological benchmarks, even within protected areas, is concerning. It bodes poorly for elephants and their ecological roles, within and beyond protected areas.