Tackling critical threats facing Asian elephants

A new alliance aims to protect and restore elephant populations in Southeast Asia and China

Multiple elephants huddled together looking into one direction

Asian elephants are the largest land mammal next to their African cousins, and an important keystone species to maintaining healthy ecosystems and safeguarding other species with whom they share habitat. Sadly, Asian elephants are globally endangered and particularly threatened in Southeast Asia and southern China, where only about 8,000-11,000 wild elephants share space in some of the most densely populated countries.

An elephant looks at the camera raising its trunk amid forest

WWF’s Elly Allies aims to reverse population declines, safeguard and restore habitats, and move towards sustainable coexistence between elephants and people.

1. What is the current status of wild Asian elephant populations?

There are less than 50,000 Asian elephants in the wild, living in 13 countries across South and Southeast Asia and southern China. The majority of the global population is found in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. The rest—about 16%-20%—live in Southeast Asia and China. Unfortunately, the elephants in Southeast Asia and China are facing critical threats to their survival, with only around 8,000 to 11,000 left in eight countries: Cambodia, China, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

2. Why are Asian elephants in Southeast Asia and China of particular conservation concern?

In Southeast Asia and China, Asian elephants are facing escalating habitat loss and fragmentation, human-elephant conflict, poaching, and small populations that are increasingly isolated. Population isolation places elephants at higher risk of localized extinction due to conflict, disease, inbreeding, etc. Some national populations in Southeast Asia and China are estimated as low as mere hundreds. Now more than ever, we must scale up efforts to halt population declines and local elephant extinctions and create an environment for sustainable coexistence with humans.


Learn about the second-largest land mammal in the world and the threats they face.

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3. Why are elephants important?

Elephants are integral to maintaining healthy ecosystems, including clean water, fertile soils, and climate regulation for many other species and millions of people. As a keystone species, elephants create new habitats and resources for other animal and plant species and contribute to forest biodiversity through the nutrients and seeds they spread in their dung.

All of these benefits support the health and survival of the people and communities living among elephants. Beyond the ecosystem services elephants provide, elephant conservation provides alternative livelihood opportunities, including sustainable tourism, which benefits local communities and fosters a future for humans and wildlife. By conserving these giants, we also uphold the cultural and historical values associated with elephants which hold a significant place in the region's customs, traditions, and religions.

4. What must be done to protect and restore Asian elephant populations?

First, elephant habitats must be conserved and restored. At the same time, connectivity, such as wildlife corridors, must be ensured in order to protect elephants and other wildlife species, and to reduce human-elephant conflict. Coupled with integrated and holistic approaches for conflict management, sustainable coexistence between people and elephants can be achieved.

Critically, we also need to combat the illegal wildlife trade, stop elephant poaching, and reduce the demand for elephant products. Finally, gaining a greater better understanding of elephant population dynamics and health will ensure we’re making informed decisions about elephant conservation.

5. What is WWF doing?

Through the Elly Allies—a collaborative endeavor seeking to tackle the challenges confronting wild elephants in the region—WWF will foster partnerships with communities, governments, the private sector, and others to save Asian elephants. Together, we will safeguard and restore elephant habitats, manage human-elephant conflict, and understand and protect declining populations.

Two adult elephants and a calf intertwine their trunks

For example, we’ll work with plantation companies and commodity producers to protect and restore wildlife corridors to help connect habitats. We’ll also collaborate with communities and governments to implement multiple actions to address human-elephant conflict like early detection tools when elephants are nearby, response teams to deter elephants from coming into farms, and supporting diverse livelihood opportunities in communities impacted by human-elephant conflict. And we’ll help to improve management practices and land-use planning in existing elephant habitats while increasing wildlife protection efforts to safeguard elephants and other wildlife.

The Elly Allies will start by focusing its efforts in Southeast Asia and China, due to this region’s low elephant populations and the urgent need for further conservation action. The hope is to broaden the scope to enhance support for other range countries in Asia in the years to come, ensuring a brighter future for all Asian elephants and those who live alongside them.