By Martin Cuddihy
Thousands of elephants are killed each year for their tusks, but it's hoped new legislation will stem the deaths of the animal which is now at dangerous low numbers particularly in Kenya.
DAVID MARK: It's believed as many as 30,000 African elephants are killed every year for their ivory tusks and one of the biggest populations - in Kenya - is at its lowest level for a decade.
But there is hope that new laws and the work of volunteers can help the species recover.
ABC Africa correspondent Martin Cuddihy reports from the Tsavo National Park in Southern Kenya.
(Sound of a plane)
MARTIN CUDDIHY: From right across Kenya volunteer pilots and counters have arrived in Tsavo.
They're using their own planes to help quantify just how many elephants are in the wildlife conservation area.
Francis 'Fuzz' Dyer is one of the pilots.
FRANCIS FUZZ DYER: Well I've been involved in conservation for quite a long time and Tsavo is an important place for elephant. I've helped out on a couple of these counts.
MARTIN CUDDIHY: The preliminary results from this census show that the number of elephants is down. The count is not done regularly enough to say definitely but this looks like the smallest recorded population since 2002.
There are about 11,000 elephants in Tsavo National Park - down from 12,500 three years ago.
Poaching is still a huge problem.
By some estimates more than 80 elephants die every day across Africa simply for their tusks, but that's not the only challenge the animals face.
Doctor Charles Musyoki is the head of species research at the Kenya Wildlife Service.
CHARLES MUSYOKI: We've seen opening up of natural vegetation, we've seen development of infrastructure such as houses, roads, market places and so on and that had the effect of reducing the space that is available for elephants and other animals to disperse to.
MARTIN CUDDIHY: In an effort to stem the flow of ivory out of Africa, Kenya introduced tough new laws in December. Fines for possession of ivory used to be about $130. Now it's more than a quarter of a million.
Edna Mwalenga prosecutes ivory poachers.
EDNA MWALENGA: An animal has died for a case to be brought before court and it's really painful. I wouldn't prefer we get there, I would prefer we deal with the poachers in the field.
MARTIN CUDDIHY: She believes the new laws will make a difference.
EDNA MWALENGA: Because previously the fines were going at 10,000, the maximum was 40,000. Imprisonment I think the maximum was four years. But with the new law we are talking about 20 million for being in possession of any trophy of an endangered species.
So that means it will deter a lot of this poaching in the country, especially for these foreigners who do it, like for example the Chinese and these oriental countries. Because previously when you take them to court the fine would be 10,000. Who can't afford 10,000 Kenyan shillings?
MARTIN CUDDIHY: Wildlife authorities in Kenya are not sounding alarm bells about Tsavo just yet.
They believe the population is stable and there's room for growth.
In Tsavo, Kenya, this is Martin Cuddihy for AM. Audiofile.