Managing large-scale wildlife data using GIS

Great Elephant Census

by Joel Masselink


What is the Great Elephant Census?


How was GIS used to manage data?


Results + Impacts of GEC

What is the GEC?

coordinated aerial surveys of savannah elephant range

covering majority of their range

including parts of 20 countries

Need for GEC

current data for population status assessment across range

K.S. Gobush/ Save The Elephants, 2013

Ivory ban

Ivory sale to China

Need for GEC

current data for population status assessment across range

GEC implementation









a Paul G. Allen project

Vulcan Inc.

Elephants Without Borders (P.I)

GEC partners

Spatial data collection




audio recorder




Spatial data collection

flight parameters


GPS tracks logs


height above ground

ground speed

Spatial data processing

Spatial data processing

GIS Tasks

compile & process data

  • compile survey plan spatial data
  • normalize observation records + flight logs

Spatial data validation

Survey design

  • strata
  • transects

Spatial data validation

Survey data collection

  • flight track logs
  • observations records

tools used by GEC

  • GIS clients: ArcGIS + QGIS
  • GPS utilities: DNR Garmin + GPS Babel


tools built by GEC

  • open SQL db backend: PostgreSQL / PostGIS
  • Microsoft Excel template for normalizing raw data

Spatial data normalization

Spatial data conversion / management




Python scripts

ogr2ogr -f "SQLite" E:\GIS\Projects\GEC_status.sqlite -progress PG:"server
dbname user password table"-nlt MULTIPOLYGON -nln GEC_survey_strata -lco -dsco

Tools for database ingestion

SQL queries 






SELECT s.code as survey_code, as stratum_name, count( as strata_count,
    ST_AREA(geography(ST_COLLECT(st.stratum_boundary))) / 1000000::double precision as strata_area_sqkm
FROM survey_stratum as st
INNER JOIN survey_survey as s on = st.survey_id
GROUP BY s.code, 
ORDER BY s.code asc;

Validation tools

normalized spatial data (Leaflet)

Validation tools

key flight parameters (Python libraries)

Validation tools

survey data logger

helps pilots stay on track + records data

Results + Impacts of the GEC

Results + Impacts of the GEC

GEC database

Results + Impacts of the GEC

African Elephant Database

- GEC data + reports provided to AfESG

Sept 2016 - African Elephant Status Report

Nov 2016 - CITES Conference of Parties

- complete primary data preserved

- normalized across GEC

- platform for further analysis

answering questions

status of elephants + other species

status of poaching + human encroachment

Results + Impacts of the GEC

Great Elephant Census

by the numbers:

20 countries

90 scientists

286 crew people

81 airplanes

XX of flights

XX flight miles

9700 hours of flight time


Vulcan colleagues:


Kathleen Gobush

Kirk Larsen

Ted Schmitt


many GEC collaborators:

Thank you !


contact me:



Copy of GIS-wildlife-data

By Joel Masselink

Copy of GIS-wildlife-data

Managing large-scale wildlife data using GIS: Great Elephant Census

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