Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 26, Issue 9, pp 2067–2081 | Cite as

Conservation status of Asian elephants: the influence of habitat and governance

  • A. Calabrese
  • J. M. Calabrese
  • M. Songer
  • M. Wegmann
  • S. Hedges
  • R. Rose
  • P. Leimgruber
Original Paper


Understanding the drivers of Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) abundance and distribution is critical for effective elephant conservation, yet no such analysis exists despite decades of assessments and planning. We explored the influence of habitat- and governance-related drivers on elephant abundance across the 13 Asian elephant range countries. We tested competing statistical models by integrating a binary index of elephant abundance (IEA) derived from expert knowledge with different predictor variables including habitat, human population, socioeconomics, and governance data. We employed logistic regression and model-averaging techniques based on Akaike’s Information Criterion to identify the best-performing subset among our 12 candidate models and used the model-averaged results to predict IEA in other areas in Asia where elephant population status is currently unknown. Forest area was our strongest single predictor variable. The best performing model, however, featured a combination of habitat and governance variables including forest area, level of corruption, proportional mix of forest and agriculture, and total agricultural area. Our predictive model identified five areas with medium–high to high probability to have populations with >150 elephants, which we believe should be surveyed to assess their status. Asian elephants persist in areas that are dominated by forest but also seem to benefit from a mix of agricultural activities. A relatively low level of corruption is also important and we conclude that effective governance is essential for maintaining Asian elephant populations. Asian elephant populations cannot be maintained solely in protected areas but need well-managed, mixed-use landscapes where people and elephants coexist.


Asian elephant Landscape-level conservation Environmental factors Socio-economic factors Human density Spatial prediction 



We thank the Elite Network of Bavaria, Germany for financing travel from Germany to SCBI Front Royal. Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) and a private donor for funding student internships/fellowships. We would also like to thank the IUCN/SSC Asian Elephant Specialist Group (AsESG) for providing data and the AsESG, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and WWF for funding and running the 2008 workshop in Cambodia. We thank John McEvoy for GIS assistance during the revision of the manuscript.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (XLS 72 kb)
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht (out side the USA) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. Calabrese
    • 1
  • J. M. Calabrese
    • 1
  • M. Songer
    • 1
  • M. Wegmann
    • 2
  • S. Hedges
    • 3
  • R. Rose
    • 4
  • P. Leimgruber
    • 1
  1. 1.Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, National Zoological ParkFront RoyalUSA
  2. 2.Department of Remote SensingUniversity WürzburgWürzburgGermany
  3. 3.Wildlife Conservation Society-Global Conservation ProgramsBronxUSA
  4. 4.Center for Geospatial AnalysisCollege of William and MaryWilliamsburgUSA

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