By Elias Msuya
Rufiji.Massive poaching in the Selous Game Reserve (SGR), a UNESCO World Heritage site, has resulted in the population of elephants dropping to 13,000 this year from 110,000 in 1976, The Citizen has learnt.
The SGR chief conservator, Mr Benson Kibonde, told journalists on Monday that poaching was the main reason behind the decreased population of the jumbos.
“In 1976 the reserve had 110,000 elephants but the number went down to 30,000 in 1989,” said Mr Kibonde, adding that this pathetic situation led to the launch of an anti-poaching operation called Operation Uhai.
He said Operation Uhai proved to be successful as the elephant population improved to 70,000.
“But the tidal wave of poaching increased again resulted in the population of elephants plummeting to 13, 500,” said Mr Kibonde.
The deputy minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Mr Lazaro Nyalandu, said the government was in the process of creating a Tanzania Wildlife Authority that would specifically deal will wildlife conservation.
He said a draft for the establishment of the authority had already been prepared pending approval by Parliament.
“I appeal to Members of Parliament to approve the draft aimed at saving the country’s wildlife from extinction through poaching,” said Mr Nyalandu.
The Selous Game Reserve, covering 50,000 square kilometres, is among the largest protected areas in Africa but it has been affected by poaching.
The reserve harbours one of the most significant concentrations of elephants, black rhinoceros, cheetah, giraffe, hippopotamus and crocodiles, among many other species.
Mr Nyalandu revealed over the weekend that at least 60 elephants were reported to have been killed in various national parks and game reserves within the country after the suspension of an anti-poaching operation called Operesheni Tokomeza Ujangili.
The operation culminated in the sacking of four cabinet ministers a week ago, well after it had been suspended by the National Assembly in early November this year.
Mr Nyalandu told a press conference in Dar es Salaam that only two elephants were butchered when the operation was going on.
After it was suspended, which is not more than 50 days, he said, more than 60 elephants have been killed - that is to say at least one elephant was killed each day.