The future persistence of African elephants over the 80 per cent of the species's range that remains outside protected areas is increasingly uncertain in many parts of the continent. Conflict between elephants and agriculturalists is already widespread and can lead to displacement or elimination of elephants, causing a further decline in their range and numbers. ‘Protectionist’ conservation groups have recently attempted to play down the importance of human–elephant conflict, contending that it has been greatly exaggerated by those advocating sustainable use of wildlife. The future of elephants in ecosystems over much of the continent will depend largely upon the attitudes and activities of humans. The realities of survival faced by rural Africans may mean that little attention will be paid to a debate taking place on conservation philosophy in the developed world. Therefore, the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group (AfESG) is investigating how human land use can be integrated with the needs of elephant populations in Africa's biogeographical regions. Findings from these studies will be used in attempts to benefit elephant conservation and management in the 37 African elephant range states.