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A major decline in elephant numbers in Mozambique was recently announced by the Minister of Land, Environment and Rural Development, Minister Celso Correia, at a signing ceremony for trans-boundary conservation cooperation between Mozambique and Tanzania in Maputo.

elephant calf
© Rod Waddington

The Mozambique survey revealed that criminal gangs are decimating elephant populations and forests, prompting new government measures to stop the devastation.

The survey showed a dramatic estimated 48% decline in elephant numbers in Mozambique in the last five years, from just over 20,000 to the current estimate of 10,300. This decline is due to rampant elephant poaching in the country’s most important elephant populations.

The surveys were led by the Government of Mozambique in partnership with WCS, and were funded by Paul G Allen, as part of the Great Elephant Census, WCS, and USAID.

Organised criminal gangs are decimating Mozambique’s biodiversity and undermining governance in remote border areas. This is destroying one of the key development options for local communities and regional government in these remote, wild areas where wildlife thrives.

95% of the total loss occurred in northern Mozambique where the elephant population declined from an estimated 15,400 to an estimated 6,100. Niassa National Reserve was hardest hit, and the population has fallen from an estimated 12,000 in 2012 to an estimated 4,440 – 43% of all elephants seen in Niassa Reserve on this survey were dead. In Quirimbas National Park the current elephant population is small, just over 600 animals, but there is significant poaching, with 45% of all elephants seen on the survey dead.

The Tete area, and Limpopo National Park and surrounds – Mozambique’s second and third largest elephant populations – have seen a 20 percent decline in each site. In Tete 1,600 elephants remain and in Limpopo National Park and the areas to the south, 1,100 elephants remain. But poaching is occurring in both of these populations with 290 carcasses in Tete, and 230 in Limpopo National Park and the area to the south.

In addition, the surveys detected significant illegal logging operations within protected areas – in the eastern part of Niassa National Reserve near the Unity Bridge, in Quirimbas National Park, as well as in Tchuma Tchato and surrounding areas in Tete.

In Gorongosa National Park and Marromeu Special Reserve small elephant populations – 535 in Gorongosa and 600 in Marromeu – are increasing slowly in size.

© Rod Waddington

In response to this widespread criminal activity, the Government of Mozambique’s Minister for Land, Environment and Rural Development, Minister Celso Correia, declared that tackling ivory poaching and rhino horn trafficking is a major priority for his new ministry, and, together with other ministries, is taking the following measures to combat this rampant criminal activity:

1. Focusing on implementing the law and bringing poachers and traffickers to justice:

On June 20, 2014, then Mozambique President Armando Guebuza signed into existence a new Biodiversity law, which criminalises poaching, imposes deterrent sentences, and allows asset seizure.

Mozambique’s Attorney-General’s office is also taking wildlife crime seriously, and the Attorney-General herself recently appointed one of her deputies to focus on improving the prosecution of wildlife crime cases.

2. Deploying the new Mozambican environmental police unit to work with scouts from the National Agency for Conservation Areas (ANAC) to implement the law and stop poaching and illegal logging

3. Developing intelligence-led law enforcement capability, and improving training, equipping and leadership of protected-area scouts, including establishing specialist units that are properly equipped and armed.

4. Strengthening partnerships with international organizations, including: WCS in Niassa Reserve, the Peace Parks Foundation in Limpopo National Park, and the Carr Foundation in Gorongosa National Park. In addition, donor partners have responded and are helping including: USAID who recently committed to support Niassa Reserve and Gorongosa National Park; the World Bank supporting the MozBio program to strengthen the national conservation areas network, Germany’s KfW, the French Development Agency, and others

5. Working with CITES to conduct a national inventory of ivory stocks, securing the stocks and implement a transparent audit system.

6. Mozambique signed an MoU with Tanzania on 25 May 2015, and with South Africa in 2014, to strengthen cross-border collaboration to tackle poaching and trafficking. Some positive results are already being seen. In the first quarter of 2015, in Niassa Reserve, two elephant poachers were arrested, five illegal firearms collected (two AK47’s and three hunting rifles, with 336 rounds of ammunition), and 18 tusks recovered. In April 2015, a policeman who had been renting his AK47 to a poacher in Niassa Reserve was imprisoned for five years. In April/May 2015, the new environmental police unit arrested six army officers who were poaching elephants between Niassa Reserve and Quirimbas National Park with four AK47’s. In response to illegal logging activities detected during the elephant survey, joint ANAC and WCS teams destroyed three logging camps and impounded 1,200 cubic meters (42,377 cubic feet) of wood in Niassa Reserve.

Cristián Samper, WCS President and CEO said: “These survey results are sobering; criminals have taken a staggering toll on Mozambique’s wildlife and natural resources. But I am hopeful that the government of Mozambique, working with partners in the NGO and development community, as well as neighbouring nations, will bring criminals to justice so elephants can thrive once again here.”

Alastair Nelson, WCS Mozambique Country Director said: “We still have a long way to go to stop rampant elephant poaching, illegal hardwood logging, and rhino horn trafficking. We will continue to partner with the government of Mozambique to work together to stop poaching and wildlife trafficking across the country. In Niassa Reserve we will do whatever we can to bring more outside support to respond to this tragedy. Niassa is one of the few remaining wildernesses on our planet that can, and must, hold tens of thousands of elephant one day again.”

Dr. Carlos Lopes Pereira, ANAC Head of Law Enforcement and WCS Mozambique Technical Director said: “To reverse this situation, we have to act now, in five years it will be too late.”

The British High Commissioner to Mozambique, Joanna Kuenssberg said “This survey shows just how grave the situation is and why further efforts to enforce the law and support the local communities are so urgent to ensure the elephant’s survival in Mozambique. Botswana, Gabon and others are showing the way with the Elephant Protection Initiative, which could be part of the solution. Only through effective international collaboration across the board can the alarming trend of destruction be reversed. The UK will continue to support these efforts in Mozambique and across the region.”

The Tanzanian Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, Minister Lazaro Nyalundu, announced that Tanzania will release the results of their national elephant census on June 1 in Arusha.

To read more about the Great Elephant Census read: Where Giants Still Roam

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