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Elephant Poaching: The Disaster in Tanzania

Posted by Richard Conniff on December 18, 2013

Vulture droppings on a slaughtered elephant ((Photo: Udzungwa Elephant Project)

Vulture droppings on a slaughtered elephant ((Photo: Udzungwa Elephant Project)


Back in October, I reported on how Tanzania had reluctantly agreed to a proper scientific count of the remaining elephant population in the Selous ecosystem.  At the time, one of the conservationists involved in the survey emailed, “Lots of talk about how to manage media once the numbers come out since they’re expected to be so bad.”  Now the results are out, and they are dire.

Apparently, managing the media means keeping these results as quiet as possible.

But here’s a report from National Geographic:

In Tanzania, which until recently harbored the continent’s second largest number of savanna elephants (after Botswana), the results of an aerial census of the Selous ecosystem carried out this October have just been announced—at the 9th Scientific Conference of the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI), held December 4-6 in Arusha.

The Selous ecosystem (31,040 square miles) is Africa’s largest protected area and holds East Africa’s greatest elephant population. In the early 1970s, it was estimated to exceed 100,000 elephants, but by the end of the last great ivory poaching crisis in the late 1980s, the number had fallen to about 20,000.

Following the global ivory trade ban enacted in 1989, the population recovered to about 55,000 elephants by 2007—when the current wave of killing escalated. By 2009, Selous elephants were down to about 39,000.

The latest, recently announced population estimate is 13,084. This indicates an unprecedented decline of nearly 80 percent over the last six years.

We await with trepidation imminent results from East Africa’s second largest population, Ruaha-Rungwa (13,384 square miles), also in southern Tanzania, where large numbers of fresh carcasses are reported from Rungwa Game Reserve and parts of Ruaha National Park.

If, somewhere on your bucket list, you are hoping to make a safari in Tanzania, better do it quick.  Unless the government there takes dramatic action to stop the poachers, there won’t be anything left to see.


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