2014 was a year to consolidate the previous year’s work, and further implement anti-poaching programmes put in place during 2013. The good news is that the world has shown a considerable will to get behind our greatest land mammal, and support remains strong for efforts to improve the poaching situation in Tanzania.
Support from Frankfurt Zoological society has helped back up the census work of 2013 with a second Selous elephant count taking place exactly one year after the first, in October 2014. Elephants were also counted across all key strongholds within Tanzania. We await the results to see how the picture is changing. Anecdotally, Selous seems to be much calmer, with only a few poaching incidents recorded around the periphery of the park. Elephants are starting to be more visible again, coming out of hiding, but can now be seen in fewer but larger groups; a typical result of the insecurity brought on by poaching pressure.
The World Elephant Centre (WEC), which has very close ties to TEPS, is now the chief focus of its efforts. WEC is the ideal private sector monitoring organisation which can ensure any surge in poaching will be rapidly found and recorded. Any such event will then be brought to the attention of the government through TEPS. We are very pleased to hear that WEC has won the contract from UNDP to conduct an elephant monitoring survey in the greater Ruaha eco-system, has support from TANESCO to do likewise in Serengeti and is hoping to initiate a Selous elephant project with financial support likely to be available in 2015. Such a comprehensive monitoring programme across the major conservancies of Tanzania will be of enormous help in the battle against the poachers.
Although there has been a dramatic improvement in efforts to tackle the poaching, operations could still be a lot smoother. Poachers are still active in many areas and better coordination is needed to unify the various projects targeting an end to the problem. Tanzania has lost a brand new helicopter, donated for anti-poaching use, whilst it was still in Dar es Salaam. Lives were lost and questions need to be asked about the commitment of the authorities in recruiting able pilots, and installing robust operational plans. Furthermore, we were all saddened by the release of a report by EIA implicating, not only the Chinese consular representatives, but also the Chinese President himself, in smuggling ivory out of the country. It is desperately important that political leaders at both ends of the supply chain are totally committed to ending the ivory trade.
As this introduction to TEPS is written, in 2014, the world is finally waking up to the terrible slaughter of elephants which has taken place in Africa over the past 5 years. We are still in the midst of the battle, with spiralling demand, fuelled in the main, by massive new spending power in China, where ivory is a potent symbol in a rich and powerful culture, but live elephants mean little. The rapid evolution of social media is helping to spread the word to a, by and large, uninformed people, that the ivory carvings so sought after mean the slaughter of elephants. Mis-information has led many Chinese people to believe ivory is shed and re-grows, and most are horrified when confronted with images of dead animals with their heads’ carved open by chain saws to easily remove the tusks.
Tanzania’s own beautiful Selous Game Reserve, Africa’s largest protected area, larger than Switzerland, has been the worst hit area on the continent. We have seen the population drop from 40,000 to 13, 000 in the four years to October 2013 – almost 20 animals a day shot dead in one reserve only!
TEPS was started in 2012 by Dr Alfred Kikoti and David Guthrie of A Tent With A View. Since then, it has played a significant role in the fight to protect Tanzania’s elephants, and is recognised internationally for its on-going work in the field.
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