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.
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.
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NOTES FOR EDITORS
- Frankfurt Zoological Society is an international conservation organisation based in Frankfurt, Germany. We wotk with and for people to conserve wildlife and ecosystems, focussing on protected areas and outstanding wild places. For further information please visit www.fzs.org
- Frankfurt Zoological Society has made long-term commitments for the conservation of wildlife and biodiversity in the last great wilderness areas on earth. In Africa, we are committed to the protection of areas that are strongholds for elephants and rhinos, including some of the largest and most important savannah areas in Africa. FZS places particular emphasis on working with local partners to identify and implement locally relevant solutions to conservation problems.
- Frankfurt Zoological Society has taken part in animal counts in Serengeti National Park since the Founder of FZS, Professor Bernhard Grzimek, came in 1959 to first count the wildebeest herds. On-going support for aerial surveys has been made possible with the FZS aircraft and technical team over the years.
- The Great Elephant Census in Tanzania was facilitated and coordinated by Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI). Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) provided logistical support, while the entire endeavour was made possible by further collaboration with the Wildlife Division (WD) of Tanzania Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA). The census was part of the continent-wide Great Elephant Census (GEC) and included seven major ecosystems: (1) the Serengeti, (2) Tarangire-Manyara, (3) Selous-Mikumi, (4) Katavi-Rukwa, (5) Ruaha-Rungwa, (6) Malagarasi-Muyovosi and (7) Burigi-Biharamulo ecosystems. Other areas surveyed by the Government of Tanzania included Mkomazi and Saadani National Parks. Furthermore informal assessments were obtained from other protected areas including Rubondo Island, Kilimanjaro and Arusha National Parks. Elephant population sizes were also sought from Swagaswaga Game Reserve, and West Kilimanjaro and Natron Game Controlled Areas. Survey crew, equipment (aircraft, vehicles, etc) and scientific supervision for the field- implementation of the seven month long aerial survey were provided by the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) in collaboration with its partners from Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA), Wildlife Division (WD) and the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS).
- The Great Elephant Census is designed to provide accurate and up-to-date data about the number and distribution of African elephants by using standardized aerial surveys of tens of hundreds of thousands of square miles. Dozens of researchers flying in small planes will capture comprehensive observational data of elephants and elephant carcasses. The Census is an opportunity to use large-scale research to uncover data and insights that can empower people across Africa as they work to protect elephant populations for the long term. Flying over more than 18 countries, the Great Elephant Census is the most comprehensive project of its kind to form an essential baseline for future African elephant conservation efforts. Elephant estimates from these surveys will form the basis for conservation management plans for NGOs, wildlife services and governments. Paul G. Allen has provided more than $7 million to fund the continent-wide census.