By Paul Tyson, ITV News
Tanzania today promised firm action against poachers who are turning part of the country into a “slaughterhouse” as new figures showed thousands of elephants have been lost in the past year alone.
The figures released today show the east African country’s elephant population, once among Africa’s largest, has fallen to 43,330, a drop of several thousand from the previous survey. In 1976 Tanzania boasted seven times as many elephants but successive waves of poaching since have endangered whole populations and tarnished Tanzania’s image amid allegations of high-level corruption and complicity in the slaughter.
Announcing the results of a new aerial survey the Tanzanian Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Lazaro Nyalandu claimed the figures were a “mixed bag” with increases in some areas overshadowed by a dramatic fall in the Ruaha area from 20,000 in 2013 to 8,272 last year.
The announcement confirmed an ITV News report earlier this year which was “categorically denied” at the time by the National Parks authority. Our report highlighted that 4,000 of the elephants poached in the area were lost in the Ruaha National Park, one of Africa’s largest protected areas.
The Minister made no mention of the park, using figures from the wider ecosystem instead and highlighting Rungwa, a nearby game reserve, as the country’s poaching epicentre. “Ruaha is one thing but Rungwa I believe is an epicentre of where all the trouble has come from” he said. “Rungwa has become a slaughterhouse.”
The minister also suggested that some of the loss may be due not to poaching but to migration and announced a re-survey of the Ruaha-Rungwa area. This is at odds with the findings of the survey team who concluded in their report that migration was not a factor and stated that a “major mortality” had taken place.
Mr Nyalandu announced a number of measures to combat poaching including an increase in the number of rangers in the affected areas, new funding for anti-poaching efforts and a national law enforcement strategy to address the lack of successful prosecutions for poaching.
The Minister received pledges of support from the US and German Ambassadors and a donation of all-terrain vehicles, night-vision equipment and communications technology from the Chinese Ambassador, Liu Xinsheng. China has long been accused of driving the illegal ivory trade but the government in Beijing has recently signalled a crackdown on the problem.
“Wildlife conservation is the common task of all human beings, we are strongly against the illegal wildlife trade and will take severe punishments against anyone involved in wildlife crime” said Mr Xinsheng.