THE number of elephants in the country has risen after a successful war against poaching and involvement of wananchi in protecting wildlife.
The University of Dar es Salaam Lecturer at the department of Zoology and Wildlife Conservation, Dr Elikana Kalumanga told the ‘Daily News’ in an exclusive interview recently that the feat is down to government’s crackdown on organised criminal networks involved in industrial-scale poaching.
Dr Kalumanga who has spent years researching on wildlife and in particular elephants said according to the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) report of 2009, the number of jumbos was 109,000.
He said in 2012 poaching activities increased in the country and that the number of elephants started to decrease.
“A number of organisations reported different numbers from their surveys, but generally, the number had dropped from 109,000 to below 50,000 elephants,” he noted.
He said some decades ago, Tanzania was among African countries that had a big number of elephants and that it reached the point for conducting an ‘elephant control scheme’.
According to the statistics, between 1922 and 1975, a total of 106,832 elephants were eliminated under the control scheme and two of them were killed near the Julius Nyerere International Airport.
“The point here is that we once had a big number of elephants, but the number went down after we failed to control poaching,” he said.
According to a report entitled “Elephants in the Dust– The African Elephant Crisis”, increasing poaching levels and loss of habitat were among factors that threatened the survival of African Elephant populations in Central, West, Southern and Eastern Africa.
The report, which was produced by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (TRAFFIC) explained that systematic monitoring of large-scale seizures of ivory destined for Asia is indicative of the involvement of criminal networks, which are increasingly active and entrenched in the trafficking of ivory between Africa and Asia.
Dr Kalumanga said the total number of elephants in Africa is now around 420,000 and that the big number is found in Botswana.
Dr Kalumanga was optimistic of a continued positive trend in the increase of the elephant population in the country.
He said the increase is backed by some indicators, which are crucial when estimating the number of jumbos.
“We have been able to see herds of elephants moving around with calf, this is a good indication that now the number is growing and elephants are living a peaceful life in their areas,” he said.
He said before the government intervention in poaching, it was rare to find elephants moving in groups with their calves.
“When there is no peace among these animals, we do not see newborns, because they are always on the run, but today, elephants no longer fear that much, we even get closer to them with vehicles, this is possible because they have been assured security,” he said.
The conservationist added that another indication to the growing number of elephants is reports on their presence in some areas such as University of Dodoma, Rufiji, Tunduma and Tanga-Mkomazi.
“What we need to understand here is that elephants keep memories, they know where they belong and they have good memories of their areas and routes, therefore, it does not matter how many years have passed, the elephants will always follow their roots, and now they are following because they no longer fear poachers,” he said.
According to Dr Kalumanga, he sees great future in the protection of wildlife under the current government. He said in 1989 the situation was worse with a highest record of poaching incidents in the country’s national parks and protected game reserves.
He said the government decided to conduct the famous ‘Operation Uhai’ which involved a number of security officers and that from 1989 to 2009 the number of elephants grew from 50,000 to 109,000.
However, a few years later, the number started to go down.
“I am glad, today we can see good indications that the number is going up once again, the fifth government has managed to deal with poachers, we have witnessed a big number of them being arrested and charged, we hope for the better in the sector,” he said.
He added that the involvement of wananchi in the wildlife protection activities is also vital and that so far 27,430 square kilometers are protected within villages across the country.