The rainy season is now ending in Tanzania. In the coming months, our team will be ramping up activities to put an end to poaching in Selous Game Reserve, a precious World Heritage site and one of the most important protected areas in the world. Dr Amani Ngusaru from WWF Tanzania writes about what zero poaching means, and what it will take to get there.
There is no escaping the fact that Selous’ elephants have been decimated over the past 40 years. Driven by waves of industrial-scale poaching, the population has crashed by almost 90%. During the last poaching peak in 2013 six elephants were being killed each day in the reserve – that’s 2,190 elephants a year. But recently, through the combined efforts of the government and other organizations, this rate has slowed. The government has stepped up its anti-poaching efforts and developed an Emergency Action Plan that WWF will be helping to deliver. We are now in a position to look forward and plan the future of this World Heritage site.
Central to this plan must be stopping elephant poaching. Make no mistake: this is very ambitious given the scale of historical poaching. However, it is also very exciting as we believe it can be done by working together with the Tanzanian Wildlife Authority and the supporters of Selous.
This is not just for the sake of wildlife but for Tanzania and its people.
What is zero poaching?
Zero poaching goes beyond a count of elephant carcasses by taking a broad approach to stopping poaching. On any given day there may be no elephants actually killed, but people may still be trying to kill them for their tusks. Zero poaching tackles the pressure of poaching. It looks at the detectable traces of poaching, including snares, poachers’ camps and gunshots.
This is about more than Selous Game Reserve and its effective management in the future – it’s also about working with law enforcement agencies to ensure that wildlife trafficking is stopped.
In Selous we’re focussing on three key areas of zero poaching: the community, prosecution for wildlife crimes, and rangers.
For example, we’re working with the Tanzanian Wildlife Authority and other partners to help provide rangers with the equipment they need to do their jobs. We will also be helping to implement a more adaptive management approach to the reserve that is based on data collected from rangers and wildlife movements. This will help to predict potential poaching incidents and reduce human wildlife conflict.
The future for elephants in the Selous
Elephant numbers have fallen dramatically across Africa over the last two centuries. There is an estimated population of 415,000 left. Some populations are stable but there are still pressures – especially loss of their habitat, which has declined by over 50% since 1979.
WWF is working to reverse this trend, and one focal area for this effort is Selous. A recent study highlighted that the Selous wilderness landscape could support 100,000 elephants. So the population can expand by 85,000 elephants.
Despite the loss of wildlife through poaching, there is space for the population to return in large numbers. If managed correctly, Selous could have globally significant populations of elephants, rhinos, lions, African wild dogs, hippos and Nile crocodiles. In other words Selous has the potential to become a leading global wildlife attraction bringing in tourists, revenue and jobs for local communities and Tanzania.
WWF wants to see a world free from poaching. This is a huge and long-term challenge. People have said that it is unachievable in Selous, but that won’t stop us from supporting the rangers who face the threat of poachers every day on patrol. Any poaching is unacceptable, and we will continue to work with the communities, government and partners to stamp it out.
The six pillars of zero poaching
Underpinning the zero poaching effort is the need to deliver actions across six areas at the same time. In Selous this looks like:
Assessments: We’re developing a clear monitoring program to assess the effectiveness of law enforcement. This will allow us to understand how things have changed; not just on stopping poaching but the systems that ensure this.
Capacity: We’ll work with partners to ensure Selous Game Reserve has the capacity (the resources, equipment and financial backing) to ensure it is restored to its former glory.
Technology: Selous needs to have access to appropriate technology to improve the effectiveness of its rangers, making sure they can communicate properly across the reserve and share information to keep our rangers safe.
Communities: Communities are the eyes and ears of protected areas and are crucial to help stop poaching of wildlife which strays outside these areas. Communities need to see protected areas as resources with value for them. While Selous is a massive reserve it is not an island, and unless we have strong positive relationships and links with local communities and external law enforcement agencies we will not be able to stop poaching.
Prosecution: There is nothing that deflates ranger morale more than seeing poachers back in a reserve poaching again a few days after they have been arrested. We need to work closely with the Tanzanian judiciary to make sure that poachers are successfully charged and prosecuted to increase the risk for poachers.
Collaboration: Protected areas need partnerships to be successful and sustainable. There are many organizations that have impacts on Selous, and strong partnerships and communication enable us to create increased connections between stakeholders, and therefore increased impact.
Join the effort to help protect Selous
Do you want to see Selous free from poaching, too? Send a message to the Tanzanian government to show that you care.