By Douglas Main
How many elephants are there in Africa? Nobody knows, and nobody has really attempted to count them all at the same time. Until now.
Mike Chase, an elephant biologist based in Botswana, will lead the first pan-African aerial survey to count elephants in 22 countries. The project is funded by a $7 million grant from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and his company, Vulcan Inc., and will involve 46 scientists and 14 small aircraft.
The results will help conservationists, scientists and policymakers protect African elephants from poachers, Chase told LiveScience. Poaching is at "crisis" levels, Chase said — there are now about 50 percent fewer elephants than there were 35 years ago, according to various estimates, although exact number are hard to come by. Chase seeks to change that. "How can we conserve that which we don't know?" asked Chase, a no-nonsense man with a southern African accent and an obvious passion for elephants. But one gets the sense that he doesn't like to carry on and on about it — there's work to be done.