August 13th, 2015 by James Ayre
Tanzania has lost two-thirds of its elephant population in just the last 4 years, as a result of growing demand for ivory and the increasing professionalism of poachers, according to recent reports.
Elephant numbers in the African country stood at around 316,000 individuals in 1976 (based on aerial surveys); 13,084 in 2013; and 8200 in 2014; and continues to fall rapidly — making for a pretty clear message. The Tanzanian government is apparently refusing to publish the 2014 numbers though.
Commenting on a recent aerial census over the Selous game reserve, Howard Frederick stated: “I had never seen anything like that — there were carcasses everywhere, whole family groups on their sides, between three and seven animals, wiped out. Flying over these huge areas and even driving through, you used to see dozens of huge bull elephants. There was this incredible sense of life missing from that landscape that’s so defined by these creatures. It’s just hollow.”
Local tour guide David Guthrie reiterated that perspective, by from the ground: “In 17 years of working in the Selous I had seen two elephant carcasses but in 2010 they started appearing in numbers and by 2012 it was just awful. We were hearing shots regularly from the camps. We would have injured bull elephants walking in to try to find safety and dying under trees? The rangers were having to block access to areas — it was just carnage.”
The poachers of this time were apparently quite blatant, sometimes even using ranger posts as staging grounds — comparatively underfunded and under armed the local park rangers had few options of dealing with the issue. These poachers were/are mostly run by large criminal syndicates and work in “highly-mechanized teams” — limiting he actions available to rangers.
“You would have lead teams who would go out and scout an area, then kill teams come in, ambush and kill whole groups. They move on to the next area while the butchering team comes in and chops all the tusks and then the transport team comes in. It’s progressed from being very casual poaching to teams of highly-organized individuals.”
Commenting on the effect on the remaining elephants in the park, he noted: “They become much more frightened, they run away from humans, hide in thick bush and become largely nocturnal.”
It’s possible that numbers have gotten low enough that organized poachers will begin looking elsewhere as the remaining elephants are sparse and spend a lot of time in hiding.
The Telegraph provides a bit more:
Dr Alfred Kikoti, Tanzania’s foremost elephant expert, said the outgoing government of Mr Nyalandu represents remains part of the problem because of its unwillingness to take on the powerful networks of corruption police, immigration and wildlife officials and politicians that help the poachers to operate unhindered. Several attempts to dismantle these networks have floundered.
The military operation announced by Mr Kikwete cut poaching cases to almost zero overnight, but was halted after just one month because of alleged human rights abuses. Insiders say the abuses were a convenient cover: the operation was getting too close to political masters and disrupting their lucrative operations.
Not long after, tourism minister Khamis Kagasheki, who made waves by handing the president a secret list of senior politicians involved in poaching, was sacked along with three other ministers blamed for the botched operation. The list was quietly buried.
The future of the regions elephants remain an open question. It could well be that African and Asian elephants soon join their cousins the European, Asian, and North American Mammoths, and the North and South American Mastodons, in extinction sometime in the near future.
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