Prior to the 1960s Zambia had an estimated elephant population of over 250, 000, but by 1989 it had fallen to about 18 000 individuals. After about 10 years of improved law enforcement operations and the involvement of local communities, populations stabilized and even started to increase by 1996. In order to update and compare population estimates, aerial surveys using similar methods used in the past were conducted between October 17 and December 5, 2008. Methods used were aerial sample counts, total counts and block counts in seven ecosystems; Nsumbu-Mweru wa Ntipa – Lusenga, Bangweulu, Luangwa Valley, Lower Zambezi, Upper Zambezi, Kafue and Chete-Sikula Islands. The national population estimate was 27, 529 an increase of 18% over the 1996 estimate. Of this population estimate 20, 200 (73%) were in the Luangwa, 3348 (12%) in Kafue, 2464 (9%) in Upper Zambezi and 1299 (5%) in Lower Zambezi ecosystems. The Luangwa Valley was thus the most important elephant habitat in Zambia. The current survey omitted West Lunga ecosystem which should be surveyed in future. Ground census should be introduced in the Nsumbu ecosystem because the itigi thickets impede visibility from the air and thus aerial counts may yield under estimates. It is also being recommended that some populations be translocated from well populated areas to ecosystems where populations are still too low so as to speed up population recovery from poaching depression.
Key words: Aerial surveys, estimate, trend, distribution, Luangwa, Kafue.
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