West African Elephants

In order to conserve the last remaining elephants and their habitats in West Africa all 13 Range States have signed the CMS West African Elephant Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This tailored instrument has been in force since it was first available for signature in 2005 in Nairobi.

The MOU provides an international framework for Range States, NGOs, scientists, local people and the international community at large to collaborate in the restoration and maintenance of elephant populations and their habitats in West Africa. The African Elephant Specialist Group (AfESG) of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) is a "Cooperating Organization" to the MOU. The MOU evolved from the Strategy for Conservation of West African Elephants, developed by West African Range States, with support from the AfESG.

Through Resolution 12.19 of COP12 (Manila, October 2017), CMS Parties endorsed the African Elephant Action Plan as the principal strategy adopted by the African Elephant Range States. The COP further instructed the Secretariat to liaise with the Steering Committee of the African Elephant Fund in order to become an ex-officio member and to:

a) cooperate with the CITES Secretariat and the United Nations Environment Programme to promote fundraising for the implementation of the African Elephant Action Plan as part of overall fundraising initiatives;

b) explore opportunities for partnerships with ongoing projects and programmes of CITES and the United Nations Environment Programme to support the African Elephant Range States in the implementation of the African Elephant Action Plan to achieve CMS objectives;

c) support the implementation of the African Elephant Action Plan through collaboration with African Elephant Range States to achieve CMS objectives;

d) at the request of the African Elephant Fund Steering Committee, invite the Scientific Council (subject to its terms of reference) to provide advice on specific activities relating to the African Elephant Action Plan; and

e) report to the Conference of the Parties at each meeting on relevant actions taken to implement this resolution.

Pursuant to the Resolution, the Secretariat became an ex-officio member of the Steering Committee of the African Elephant Fund in 2018. The Secretariat provides technical support to the African Elephant Range States and liaises with the Parties to CMS on relevant matters relating to the African Elephant Fund. 

Threats and Challenges

As the world’s largest terrestrial mammal, the African Elephant has acted as a majestic symbol of the continent for thousands of years. Besides their symbolic importance, elephants also play an important ecological role in shaping both savannah and forest ecosystems. Sadly, the future of the African Elephant is far from secure given the current poaching crisis, including in West Africa. Here less than 10,000 of elephants roam the savannahs and forests today, representing only 2 per cent of the total number of elephants on the continent (~419,000 – 650,000). Recent estimates suggest there may be as few as about 7,100 individuals. Approximately 90 per cent of the elephant range has been destroyed in West Africa.

The primary threats for West African elephants are habitat loss, human-elephant conflict and poaching. The small and already highly fragmented populations face serious threats, both in the humid forest habitats and the arid Sahel. Human encroachment, competition with livestock, civil unrest and the construction of roads and railways are further increasing the pressure on remnant elephant populations. Two-thirds of these populations number less than 100 animals and very few large and stable populations remain.

Work Programme

Since its endorsement by CMS COP12, the African Elephant Action Plan has guided the implementation of the CMS Western African Elephant MOU.The Action Plan was initially developed by all 37 African Elephant Range States (CITES Decisions 14.75 to 14.79) and the CITES COP further requested the establishment of an African Elephant Fundas the financial mechanism for implementation. Subsequently, through Resolution Conf. 16.9, CITES invited biodiversity-related multilateral environmental agreements, in particular, CMS, to support the implementation of the Plan, leading, in turn, to the endorsement of the Plan by CMS COP.

The Plan has eight objectives along with related strategies and activities for each objective. Recognizing likely funding limitations, the Range States prioritized the objectives as follows: 

  • Objective 1: Reduce Illegal Killing of Elephants and Illegal Trade in Elephant Products
  • Objective 2: Maintain Elephant Habitats and Restore Connectivity
  • Objective 3: Reduce Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC)
  • Objective 4: Increase Awareness on Elephant Conservation and Management of Key Stakeholders that include Policy Makers and Local Communities among Other Interest Groups
  • Objective 5: Strengthen Range States’ Knowledge on African Elephant Management
  • Objective 6: Strengthen Cooperation and Understanding among Range States
  • Objective 7: Improved Local Communities Cooperation and Collaboration on African Elephant Conservation
  • Objective 8: African Elephant Action Plan is Effectively Implemented

As nine years have passed since the Plan was prepared, it is envisaged to review and update it with technical support from the IUCN/SSC African Elephant Specialist Group (AfESG).


The implementation of the Action Plan is facilitated through projects, which are financed by the African Elephant Fund. The 13 West African Range States of the MOU are encouraged to make full use of the funding opportunities to conduct national and regional activities.  


(updated on 15 March 2019)


Title Status Status date CMS Party number Region
Benin MOU Signatory 2005 021 Africa
Burkina Faso MOU Signatory 2005 030 Africa
Côte d'Ivoire MOU Signatory 2005 083 Africa
Ghana MOU Signatory 2007 026 Africa
Guinea MOU Signatory 2005 041 Africa
Guinea-Bissau MOU Signatory 2005 047 Africa
Liberia MOU Signatory 2005 088 Africa
Mali MOU Signatory 2005 024 Africa
Niger MOU Signatory 2005 001 Africa
Nigeria MOU Signatory 2005 022 Africa
Senegal MOU Signatory 2007 027 Africa
Sierra Leone MOU Signatory 2005 AM Africa
Togo MOU Signatory 2005 048 Africa
Instrument nameMemorandum of Understanding concerning Conservation Measures for the West African Populations of the African Elephant (Loxodonta africana)
TypeArticle IV(4)
DepositaryCMS Secretariat
SignatureSigned by 13 States and 2 Co-operating Organisations (for details please scroll to 'other' and 'MoU Signatory')
In effectImmediately following the signature by the third State; open for signature indefinitely, will become effective for each subsequent Range State on the date of signature
Website URLhttp://www.cms.int/west-african-elephants
OtherSigned also by 2 Co-operating Organisations: CMS Secretariat and Species Survival Commission of IUCN - The World Conservation Union on 22 November 2005. Regular meetings will take place, to be convened by the CMS Secretariat in liaison with the MoU’s technical advisor, the IUCN Species Survival Commission African Elephant Specialist Group

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