Tanzania facing an elephant disaster

Posted on 02 June 2015

Population drops by 60% in just five years as ivory poaching surges
Tanzania's elephant population has suffered a catastrophic decline in recent years, with numbers plummeting from an estimated 109,000 in 2009 to just 43,000 in 2014, according to the latest figures released by the government.

The Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Lazaro Nyalandu, said that it was highly likely that the decline was caused by poaching for ivory.

“The government’s figures show that Tanzania lost tens of thousands of elephants over the past decade,” said Steven Broad, TRAFFIC’s Executive Director. “It is incredible that poaching on such an industrial scale has not been identified and addressed before now.”

This news confirms concerns raised by TRAFFIC in 2013 in a report from the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), which pointed to a profound shift in ivory smuggling routes with Tanzania's Indian Ocean ports of Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar becoming the principle exit points for vast quantities of ivory. 

Latest information compiled by TRAFFIC from seizure records indicates that more ivory — at least 45 tonnes — has flowed from Tanzania to international markets in Asia than from any other African country since 2009.

A breakdown of elephant numbers across the country presented by Minister Nyalandu showed some smaller elephant populations had increased significantly, notably the elephant population in the famed Serengeti, which rose from 3,000 to 6,000 animals. However, beyond the most heavily visited tourist locations on the country's northern circuit, elephant numbers were significantly down.

Of particular concern is the Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystem, where numbers fell from over 34,600 in 2009 to an estimated 8,272 in 2014. According to government figures, around 12,000 disappeared since 2013.
“The slaughter of thousands of elephants in Ruaha–Rungwa clearly points to the involvement of international organized crime, which is compounded by corruption and weak enforcement capacity in Tanzania – and to the urgent need to scale up efforts to tackle the poaching epidemic before the area's remaining elephant herds are destroyed,” said Elisabeth McLellan, WWF Head, Wildlife Crime Initiative. “Considerable quantities of ivory from Tanzanian elephants have been seized from traffickers in recent years and these shocking figures indicate that much of it probably came from Ruaha–Rungwa.”

Minister Nyalandu did announce a suite of measures to protect the country’s elephants, including recruitment of an additional 500 rangers this year in addition to the 500 extra already hired by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism in 2014, better support for existing rangers and a doubling of ranger numbers in the key elephant stronghold of Ruaha-Rungwa, plus closer co-operation with neighbouring Zambia on anti-poaching measures.
“While the overall elephant population has declined dramatically in the past decade, rising numbers in some parts of Tanzania prove that poaching can be halted when the correct measures are put in place – including increasing the number and professionalism of rangers, enhancing community stewardship of natural resources, and strengthening law enforcement,” said McLellan. “WWF welcomes the Tanzanian government’s commitment to work with many partners to tackle the crisis, and is ready to help translate its promises into action to combat the poachers - and help save its remaining elephants.”

Tanzania was already under pressure to address elephant poaching and illegal trade from its fellow members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Along with a number of other African and Asia countries, Tanzania was required to develop an Ivory Trade Action Plan to guide its protection and enforcement efforts.
African elephant (Loxodonta africana), Tanzania.
© naturepl.com /Edwin Giesbers / WWF

Related links

Seized Shipment of Illegal African Elephant Tusks.
© WWF / James Morgan
African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana africana)
African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana africana)
© Martin Harvey / WWF
The number of ivory seizures worldwide averages 92 cases a month, or three per day.
© WWF / Folke Wulf
African elephant (Loxodonta africana) herd with Kilimanjaro mountain in the background. Amboseli National Park, Kenya.
© WWF / Martin HARVEY