The government of Tanzania have this week revealed that their elephant populations have declined by a staggering 60% in the last five years. As much as 85,000 elephants are likely to have been killed in Tanzania during this period, largely directly related to the rampant supply and demand of the illegal ivory trade. In the Ruaha-Rungwa region alone numbers fell from 34,000 to just 8,000.
This appalling revelation comes after it was reported last week that Mozambique’s elephant population has almost halved in the last five years with the country’s population falling from over 20,000 in 2009 to around 10,300 in 2014.
Both records come from the latest Great Elephant Census, an Africa-wide survey of savannah elephant populations carried out collectively by a number of organisations.
These latest figures indicate that the elephant crisis is far from under control. This majestic species is still at dangerous risk of extinction within our lifetime, despite the development of a number of initiatives and declarations being made across Africa and the rest of the world.
More than 22,000 elephants are killed every year in the pursuit of ivory destined for high-demand countries such as China, Vietnam and the USA. Tanzania and Mozambique are the latest targets and if current poaching rates continue, by the next census in five years’ time these countries could be seeing an elephant count of zero. The only way forward is to increase elephant protection and ensure that it is appropriately enforced.
In response to the shocking decline, the government of Mozambique have addressed the need to tackle the illegal wildlife trade as a priority issue, with particular attention to the trade in ivory. A commitment that requires immediate action after it was revealed that just last week 12 rhino horns had been stolen from a police storeroom worth up to £700,000 on the black market.
Malawi’s own elephant populations have dwindled in recent years. Figures for Malawi are scarce, but in Kasungu National Park, once teeming with wildlife, elephant numbers have plummeted from 2000 in the 1980s to an estimated 58 at last count in 2013. Majete National Park fell victim to the poaching crisis prior to the CITES international trading ban in 1989 when its elephant population was completely wiped out in the 1980s. However, they have since been reintroduced after the occupation of African Parks in 2003.
Malawi’s overall elephant population stands much lower than our neighbours in Tanzania and Mozambique, putting the country’s elephants at even greater risk of extinction. Though as a result Malawi is less targeted, a drastic drop in population could be catastrophic to the future of the species within the country.
Malawi’s government have committed to act against wildlife crime and the support for this has never been stronger. If these latest statistics are anything to go by, we need a concerted and immediate effort from both the government and public alike in order to tackle all sides of the ivory trade. A crackdown on anti-poaching, law enforcement and wildlife trafficking must all be addressed in order to reduce the decline and save Malawi’s remaining populations of elephants. We must take action before it’s too late.