First Advisor

Trenary, Timothy

Second Advisor

Kleier, Catherine

Thesis Committee Member(s)

Kleier, Catherine


Regis College

Degree Name



Regis College Senior Honors Program

Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Number of Pages

42 pages


Elephants are hard to count. Despite the apparent implausibility of such a statement, it is true (at least in the wild). Although elephants are the world's largest land animals, their size necessitates that they (as a species) are spread out over proportionately large distances, making accurate counts difficult and cost-intensive - many "counts" in parks with large (n > 50) populations rely on statistical inferences that may or may not be accurate, based on data collected from aerial surveys conducted from helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft. Despite the difficulty of obtaining information, we have a vested interest in gathering these data about elephant populations because elephants are an endangered species (as of 2012, elephants are classified as "vulnerable" by the IUCN). Furthermore, as international awareness of and interest in conservation increases, so does the widespread sense that people generally and the African societies in direct contact with elephants specifically must act to not only protect the existing population but ensure the ability of the population to grow to a non-endangered threshold. This goal is complicated by the concurrent goal of maintaining biodiversity because of the unique "elephant problem": There are not enough elephants in the world (in the sense that most conservationists and biologists believe that to guarantee the future of African elephants, there is a minimum necessary population threshold), and yet where elephants exist - indeed, thrive - there are too many of them. That is to say that many elephant populations in wildlife preserves currently are near or exceed the density at which elephant drastically change their landscapes through grazing, debarking of trees, and other ecological impacts. The author is developing a mathematical model to explain and predict population variations and outcomes. Part of evaluating the management decisions involves not only choosing actions which bring about acceptable consequences in the ecosystem, but are also in and of themselves acceptable actions to the concerned parties (for example, increasing the land available to wildlife preserves by demolishing or preventing the construction of buildings or farms might be beneficial to the elephant population but not be acceptable to the general public). Therefore, part of assessing the model and the management decisions and their outcomes must be to consider not only the numerical impacts but also the social ramifications for elephants and the ethical issues surrounding management. In this thesis the author discusses an approach to modeling and several possible applicable models, as well as discussing one particular model that describes and projects the population changes and constraints in Kruger National Park, South Africa. This model will include several different management options, with preference placed on projected effectiveness of implementation and ethical considerations. The ultimate goal of the modeling process is to obtain a mathematical representation of the elephant population which can accurately predict the growth or decline of elephant populations for the purpose of maintaining biodiversity.

Date of Award

Spring 2012

Location (Creation)

Denver, Colorado

Rights Statement

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