Tanzania elephants

The dramatic decline in Tanzania's elephant population

Hannah Champion

Hannah Champion

17 Jul 2015

A 60% Decline in 5 years

A recent article on Africa Geographic detailed the figures released by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism which noted a 60% decline of elephants in the last five years. Countrywide census results reveal an estimate of 43,330 elephants, compared to the 2009 census showing 109,051. This represents a loss of 65,721 elephants in 5 years - a 60.3% decline nationally. This was a catastrophic announcement and has sparked much debate about what can be done to safe-guard the future of these animals.

Most have put the decline solely down to the ivory trade with Asia, particularly China, where ivory is used as a status symbol and for medicinal purposes.

Indeed, the ivory trade is still thriving and there is much discussion around the idea that a corrupt government must be part of the problem. In the 1980s when Tanzania previously had a decline in their elephant population, the government cracked down on illegal trade and the country eventually saw an increase in figures. However, since the early 2000s this has slipped, leading to poaching and trading rising once again. CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) has protective measures in place across Tanzania, but these rules do not apply to the semi-autonomous island and, more importantly, port, of Zanzibar. This means trade of illegal ivory can easily be shipped out of the country to the East.

Tanzania elephants

Is there more to the population decrease than just the ivory trade?

Ben Fogle recently wrote an article for the Telegraph explaining that he believes a principal part of the problem is the poverty-stricken locals who hunt the elephants for both income and food. There has been increasing animal-human interaction and habitat destruction which causes stress and loss on both parts. Therefore, if the money made through tourism from elephants does not trickle down to the local communities, they do not understand the benefits of these animals and rather see them as a nuisance and a source of sustenance.  

Another reason for changes in numbers of elephants in certain parts of Tanzania is migration. Loss of habitats and agricultural expansion mean some migration routes have been ruined entirely and others are significantly threatened. This changes the migration patterns of animals and can lead to loss of elephants to surrounding countries.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly is governance issues. Many conservationists and activists state that the government needs to be on-board with conservation plans and offer funding to sustain these programmes. However, if the government are corrupt and are benefitting monetarily from the ivory trade, will these conservation plans be taken seriously and implemented?

What can be done?

When looking at the survey in more depth, it is encouraging to see that it is not all doom and gloom. There were actually increases in elephant populations in the north of Tanzania (namely Serengeti NP and Tarangire NP) due to tourism and high levels of protection. Additionally there was a certain level of elephant immigration from Kenya to Tanzania, again giving a slight increase in numbers.

Despite the government not having put any clear measures in place, the WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) has set up a five-year agreement with USAID who have offered protection funding in order to help protect the longevity of these majestic animals.

Tourism, and particularly sustainable wildlife tourism, can only continue to aid conservation efforts and using social media to publicly denounce the ivory trade will also help support conservationists and hopefully persuade the government that protecting their wildlife is vital yet still beneficial. 

Finally, inspiration should be taken from Botswana whose government strongly support conservation efforts and believe it is important to educate local communities on the benefits of tourism due to having these animals.

If African elephants are going to be around for future generations we need to help protect them now. Please get in touch if you would like to see elephants in Tanzania.

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