DAR ES SALAAM – In Tanzania, the government, with support from World Wildlife Fund (WWF), has launched the country’s largest ever elephant collaring effort to protect its dwindling elephant population. With almost 90 percent of the elephants lost over the last 40 years in the Selous Game Reserve, a World Heritage site, enhancing rangers’ ability to guard the remaining ones from poaching is essential to rebuilding the population.
In a project spanning 12 months, 60 elephants are expected to be collared in and surrounding the Selous. This will enable reserve management and government rangers to track elephant movements, identify and act against threats in real-time. The use of satellite collars is a proven effective measure to monitor wildlife movements and provide enhanced security.
In the past 40 years, rampant poaching of elephants for ivory has seen the population in Selous decimated, with numbers plunging to around 15,200 from 110,000. In 2014, UNESCO placed Selous on its List of World Heritage in Danger due to the severity of elephant poaching.
“The collaring of elephants in Selous is critical to better protect them from poachers and retaliatory killings by communities as a result of human elephant conflict. In a landscape of this magnitude, we need this kind of technology to better understand elephant movements,” said Bas Huijbregts, African species manager at WWF. “This helps to predict locations where elephants and communities may come into future conflict. The information acquired is also vital for protecting the elephant herds from poaching gangs. Real time information on their whereabouts and movement patterns can also enable rangers and village scouts to respond quickly to poaching or human-elephant conflicts.”
WWF is working with the government to adopt a zero poaching approach using a tool kit to protect the country’s elephants and ecosystems in one of Africa’s last wilderness areas. Zero poaching involves not just tackling poaching incidents but identifying the signs of poaching activities like snares and poachers’ camps. On the ground, it involves action on several key areas; from ensuring there are enough properly equipped rangers to working closely with the local communities surrounding the protected area. It also includes working with prosecutors and judges to ensure that when poachers are brought to trial they face penalties that can act as a deterrent.
“Achieving a world free of poaching is an ambitious goal but just the kind of commitment we must deliver if we want to tackle the world’s biodiversity crisis and ensure our future generations know and admire elephants and other species in the wild,” said Margaret Kinnaird, WWF Wildlife Practice Leader. “Every year, on average, 20,000 elephants are killed for their tusks in Africa – this is unacceptable and must stop now.”
Last week, two elephants from the Selous Game Reserve population were collared in the adjoining Mikumi National Park. To collar an elephant, the animal is first sedated by an immobilisation dart. When the elephant is sedated, the team moves in to attach the collar while gathering health data about the elephant. This takes a total of up to 30 minutes, following which the elephant is given an antidote to revive and join its herd.
Ongoing since March 20, the elephant collaring activity will continue until November 2018.