FZS commits to support Tanzania in intensifying anti-poaching efforts as Great Elephant Census reveals rapidly declining elephant population

Today the Tanzanian Government has released population estimates from a country-wide aerial survey: Since 2009, Tanzania’s elephant population has declined by 60%. Major losses have occurred in the Selous-Mikumi, Ruaha-Rungwa and Malagarasi‐Muyovozi ecosystems, accounting for the majority of the country’s decline, while two northern ecosystems, Serengeti and Tarangire-Manyara, showed encouraging increases.

press photo_dead_elephant.jpg

Frankfurt/Seronera,1 June 2015


Today (1 June 2015) , the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism in Tanzania officially released the results from a 2014 countrywide elephant census, which estimates there are between 40,400 and 46,600 elephants remaining in the country: a 60% decline since the last countrywide estimate in 2009.


The census covered all of Tanzania’s key elephant ecosystems as part of an ambitious initiative funded by Paul. G Allen to assess the current state of elephant populations across Africa. In Tanzania, the census sought to assess the size and distribution of the country’s elephant population, and provide the Tanzanian Government and other stakeholders with accurate and reliable data to inform long-term conservation management.


In collaboration with national and international partners, The Tanzanian Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) conducted the ‘Great Elephant Census’ from May to November 2014 in seven key ecosystems. Elephant counts from other protected areas during the same time frame were also incorporated to provide a countrywide estimate. Frankfurt Zoological Society assisted with logistical and technical support throughout the census, as well as the provision of an aircraft and pilot.


The final results of the census reveal a total elephant population of 43,521 (±3,078). Compared to the results of the 2009 census, which estimated 109,051 (± 5,899) elephants across the country, numbers have declined by 60% in just five years. The most likely cause of this decline is a dramatic upsurge in poaching, which Tanzania has been struggling to contend with over recent years due to insufficient resources for protected area management.

Major declines in historic strongholds

A break down of these numbers indicates some areas have suffered more than others, with the greatest declines occurring in the Malagarasi-Muyovozi  (-81%), Ruaha-Rungwa (-76%), and Selous-Mikumi ecosystems (-66%), which were once major elephant strongholds. In the 1970’s the Selous Game Reserve alone was home to more than 100,000 elephants. 80 % of these were lost in the 1980s poaching crisis, but the population recovered to almost half its original size by the mid-2000s, due to intensive anti-poaching efforts and the CITES ban on international ivory trade. Since then, however, the population has declined persistently: the 2009 survey revealed a population of approximately 45,000, which eventually reached just 13,084 in 2013. The 2014 survey indicates numbers have stabilised at this low point with 15,217 (±1,800) elephants counted over a larger census area.


In addition, the carcass ratio for the Selous (number of carcasses in relation to live elephants), a calculation used to assess levels of elephant deaths, indicates unnaturally high mortality in the reserve, while recent reports on large-scale illegal ivory trade throughout Africa indicate that the dramatic decline in elephant numbers in Tanzania is the result of heavy poaching. Unfortunately, the Malagarasi-Muyovozi, Ruaha-Rungwa and Selous-Mikumi ecosystems are some of Tanzania’s largest and wildest ecosystems, and therefore the most vulnerable to poaching. The areas receive few visitors and possess limited resources for management and protection relative to their size. In addition, their proximities to major smuggling routes via the Indian Ocean or Lake Tanganyika leave them exposed to illegal export.


Increasing human development may have also contributed to the decline in Tanzania’s elephant numbers. Growing human settlements in and around protected areas, coupled with agricultural expansion, livestock grazing and resource extraction, can lead to destruction and degradation of available habitat, and interruption of wildlife corridors. 

A glimmer of hope in northern ecosystems

In contrast to these major declines, two ecosystems showed promising trends, with increases of 98% in Serengeti and 64% in Tarangire-Manyara. These hopeful trends can be attributed to a combination of factors: natural reproductive rates, immigration from neighbouring areas, and improved census methods. Credit must be given to Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) for maintaining security in these two ecosystems during a time of countrywide decline.

Better Protection urgently needed

Tanzania’s Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Lazaro Nyalandu, has now announced a suite of urgent measures to tackle the country’s poaching crisis. Frankfurt Zoological Society will continue to provide adaptive support to partners on the ground for management, monitoring and protection, with a particular focus on improved law-enforcement and anti-poaching through training and provision of resources. 

Related projects