West African Elephants

  Visit the CMS West African Elephants MOU website

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, Kenya.

It 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.


Threats and Challenges

As the world’s largest terrestrial mammal, the elephant has acted as a majestic symbol of the African 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% 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

The CMS MOU together with the associated Medium Term International Work Programme provides a roadmap for action in the 13 West African range states. Since many of the elephant populations in West Africa cross national borders, the Work Programme takes a regional perspective with an emphasis on cooperation between range states and the transboundary management of elephants. It further includes measures targeting the control of the ivory trade and the implementation of CITES, in line with the close collaboration between CMS and CITES in conserving African elephants.

The Work Programme has three main components: to better understand the status of elephants, to maintain and possibly increase population numbers and to improve elephant habitats. To do this, governments and organizations want to better understand and control the ivory trade, reduce the rate of habitat loss, curtail the illegal killing of elephants, work on collecting better information to improve understanding of elephant conservation, improve cooperation, strengthen awareness raising and other activities. A cross-cutting component within the Work Programme is capacity building, from reducing human-elephant conflict in rural villages to managing transboundary law enforcement operations.


The status of the species and implementation of Work Programme activities under the MOU are regularly reviewed in each country, typically at Meetings of Signatories. These reviews cover the above-mentioned objectives of the Work Programme, as well as emerging issues, project development and other matters. The Work Programme is regularly updated to guide implementation of the instrument intersessionally. The MOU benefits from its close linkage with the IUCN/SSC African Elephant Specialist Group.


Title Status Status date CMS Party number Region
Benin MOU Signatory 2005 21 Africa
Burkina Faso MOU Signatory 2005 30 Africa
Côte d'Ivoire MOU Signatory 2005 83 Africa
Ghana MOU Signatory 2007 26 Africa
Guinea MOU Signatory 2005 41 Africa
Guinea-Bissau MOU Signatory 2005 47 Africa
Liberia MOU Signatory 2005 88 Africa
Mali MOU Signatory 2005 24 Africa
Niger MOU Signatory 2005 1 Africa
Nigeria MOU Signatory 2005 22 Africa
Senegal MOU Signatory 2007 27 Africa
Sierra Leone MOU Signatory 2005 AM Africa
Togo MOU Signatory 2005 48 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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