Early findings from the largest ever aerial survey of African wildlife – the Great Elephant Census (GEC) – are proving that big data can make a big difference when it comes to saving the world’s largest land mammal.

The Africa-wide census, funded by Microsoft billionaire Paul G. Allen, took off in February 2014, with the objective of gaining a better understanding of elephant numbers across the continent. Since then, 90 researchers from various organizations have joined aerial teams flying survey transects in 18 elephant range countries. From the sparkling desert floodplains of the Okavango Delta to the boundless savannas of Chad, the teams have racked up a combined distance of 285,000 miles (460,000 kilometers). That’s like flying to the moon and a quarter of the way back – or circling the globe eleven and a half times.
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