DAR ES SALAAM (Xinhua) -- The elephant population census held in Selous-Mikumi and Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystems shows a sharp decline of the giant mammals in the wild for the past five years, prompting Tanzanian government to take serious protection measures.
Announcing results of the elephant census on Friday in Dar es Salaam, Lazaro Nyalandu, deputy minister of Natural Resources and Tourism Ministry, said the census aimed at providing the government with knowledge and understanding of the current status of elephant populations within and outside the protected areas.
The census was held between October and November last year in the ecosystems, involving experts from within and outside Tanzania. They conducted the census in Selous-Mikumi and Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystems, the areas which are important strongholds for elephants in Tanzania.
“The results of this census indicate that the elephant populations in the two ecosystems are 13,084 and 20,090 respectively. These figures indicate a notable decline in populations in these ecosystems, compared with previous censuses,” Nyalandu said.
Statistics from previous censuses indicate that in 1976 the Selous-Mikumi Ecosystem had 109,419 elephants.
“This number dropped dramatically to 22,208 in 1991 following a wave of poaching that emerged between 1984 and 1989. This number, however, rose to 70,406 in 2006 following a countrywide ‘Operation Uhai’ that was launched in 1989 and ended in 1990 along with international conservation efforts which included termination of the ivory trade,” he said.
The deputy minister revealed that the population of elephants in this ecosystem has dropped again in recent years—in 2009 the number of elephants stood at 38,975 while right now the number has further dropped to 13,084.
A similar situation appears in the Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystem where the 1990 census recorded 11,712 elephants due to a wave of poaching. This number increased to 35,461 in 2006 but as of now only 20,090 have remained.
These results indicate that elephant population in the Selous- Mikumi ecosystem has declined by 66 percent from the 2009 population which was 38,975 elephants. On the other hand, the population in the Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystem has declined by 36.5 percent from the 2009 population of 31,625.
This decrease in elephant population is verified by a number of dead bodies that were counted during the census exercise. Some 6, 516 and 3,496 carcasses were counted in Selous-Mikumi and Ruaha- Rungwa ecosystems, respectively. In this exercise, the proportion between the live elephants and carcasses which were counted ( carcass ratio) were used as criteria to establish the causes of the deaths. Under normal conditions, the ratio of 7-8 percent indicates natural mortality such as diseases and old age. The remaining proportion indicates that the mortalities were non- natural.
The recent census demonstrates a ratio of 30 percent of elephants for Selous-Mikumi ecosystem and 14.6 percent for Rungwa- Ruaha ecosystem. These results indicate that a large number of elephant deaths are non-natural deaths. A detailed analysis has revealed that 95 and 85 percent of carcasses observed in Selous- Mikumi and Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystems had more than 18 months. This is a clear indication that the recent efforts made by the government including strengthening of patrols and conducting numerous special operations have significantly reduced a wave of poaching.
The seizures of elephant tusks weighing 32,987 kilograms, within and outside the country between 2008 to Sep. 2013, is a sign that poaching is one of the main reasons for the decrease of elephant populations in the country. The increase of livestock grazing in protected areas and wildlife corridors is another contributing factor to the demise of elephants.
For instance, Kilombero Game Controlled Areas, a part of the Selous-Mikumi ecosystem, had about 2,080 elephants in the 2002 census, but none was recorded in the just-ended census. Increased demand for ivory, particularly in the Far East countries and, therefore, price increase is a catalyst and a key determinant for the recent widespread elephant poaching.
“The census results we have released today, is clear evidence that poaching of elephants has reached unprecedented levels. In response to this unimpressive situation, my ministry is determined to intensify the protection of wildlife in collaboration with other stakeholders including defense and security forces, regional and international institutions. The ministry will also promote education and adopt strategies aiming at involving the public in conservation efforts,” Nyalandu said.
In view of maintaining and enhancing conservation efforts, the ministry was in final stages to establish an autonomous body, Tanzania Wildlife Authority. And the wildlife conservation laws are being reviewed in order to allow adoption of a paramilitary system among the employees of the wildlife sector, he said.