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Aerial Wildlife Dry Season Census in Selous-Mikumi Ecosystem starts

Matambwe, 19 September 2017 – Field work for a new aerial wildlife dry season census in the Selous-Mikumi ecosystem in Tanzania will begin on-site on Wednesday, 20 September. The census is led by the Tanzanian Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) and will be carried out in collaboration with the Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority, Tanzania National Parks and Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS). It is implemented as part of the ‘Selous Ecosystem Conservation and Development Program’, which is funded by the German Government through KfW German Development Bank. The count targets large mammals and signs of illegal human activities in the area of the Selous Game Reserve, the Mikumi National Park, the Selous-Niassa corridor and the buffer zones. The data will be used to inform management decisions.

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The elephant population in the Selous-Mikumi ecosystem has declined dramatically between 2009 and 2014 due to poaching. Photo: Daniel Rosengren/FZS
“The Selous Game Reserve Management Team is pleased to host TAWIRI for the 2017 large mammal census and looks forward to the information it will provide to further guide protection within the Game Reserve,” says Henock Msocha, the Selous Project Manager of the Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority.

“We hope the 2017 Selous-Mikumi Large Mammal census will give clarity about the development of the elephant population in Selous,” says Kathryn Doody, project manager of Frankfurt Zoological Society. Doody's team is supporting TAWIRI in organizing the complex flight program, training the observers and evaluating the data. “We sincerely hope the census will show that the elephant population has stabilized after the dramatic declines caused by poaching,” adds Doody.

The 2013 and 2014 Selous Aerial Surveys had revealed a drastic decline of the Selous elephant population from about 45,000 in 2009 to approximately 15,000 animals in 2014. The surge in poaching had been driven by soaring demand for ivory in Southeast Asia. As a result, in 2014, the Selous Game Reserve was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger. In order to take appropriate action on the ground to protect the ecosystem, it is essential that managers are equipped with accurate information about the large mammals’ populations status.

The Government of Tanzania will report the wildlife census data to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee through its “state of conservation report” in February 2018. It is therefore important that the data are accurately collected, analysed and reported in time. FZS has recruited two experienced technical advisors to support the survey design, scientific and practical implementation, data entry, data analysis and draft report preparation.
A three-day intensive training course has taken place in Arusha and Tarangire National Park before the field work. The observers were selected, and survey crews trained. Three aircraft will be used, each flying at a height of about 350 feet (ca. 100 metres) above ground at a speed of 175 kilometres per hour. Constant height and speed are essential for consistency of the data.

The survey crews consist of four individuals: the pilot navigates the aircraft following the survey plan. A front seat observer is responsible for recording metadata including the beginning and end points of each transect, flight height, predominant vegetation, presence of water and extent of burnt areas. The counting is performed by two rear seat observers looking out the left and right rear windows. Counting is confined to a sample area defined by streamers attached on the wing strut on each side of the aircraft. The sample area is about 150 metres wide on the ground.

The rear seat observers record their observations on a small cassette or digital recorder. In addition to elephants, data about a range of large mammals is recorded, including Giraffes, antelopes like Eland, Greater Kudu and Sable antelope and also warthogs, baboons and crocodiles. Photos will be taken of large groups with more than ten animals. Human activities recorded include grazing of domestic animals, tree-felling and poaching.

The 2017 Selous-Mikumi Ecosystem Wildlife Aerial Census is a continuation of monitoring efforts in Selous Game Reserve, including 18 previous aerial surveys that have been conducted every couple of years dating back to 1976. The census will cover the entire Selous ecosystem, including the Selous Game Reserve, Mikumi National Park and the Selous-Niassa corridor. Overall coverage of the Selous-Mikumi Aerial Wildlife Census will be approximately 110,000 square kilometres.

Notes for editors

The Selous Game Reserve is one of Africa’s largest protected areas, with photographic tourism and hunting permitted in designated parts of the reserve. It covers about 50,000 square kilometres which is an area larger than Switzerland and was inscribed in 1982 on the UNESCO World Heritage list for its global significance. In recent times the Selous has been faced by threats including serious declines in its elephant and rhino populations as well as infrastructure and mining challenges. As a result, it was listed as a World Heritage Site ‘in danger’ in 2014.

The Selous Game Reserve is a Miombo woodland area with a high density and diversity of species. It is home to large populations of wild dog and lion. There are also important populations of ungulates including hippo, buffalo, sable antelope, Lichtenstein's hartebeest, greater kudu, eland and Niassa wildebeest. In addition, there is also a large number of Nile crocodile and over 430 species of birds.

The Selous Ecosystem Conservation and Development Project (SECAD) is co-financed by the German Government through the German Development Bank KfW and the Government of Tanzania. Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) are co-financing and implementing partners of the project. The project objective is effective protection and management of natural resources of the Selous Game Reserve and selected community use zones in adjacent districts in a coordinated manner by SGR management and other stakeholders. Under agreement with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, FZS is responsible for delivering on strengthening of the management of Selous Game Reserve, WWF supports sustainable ecosystem management of the natural resources in priority parts of the buffer zone and a consultant maintains infrastructure and equipment.

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