The largest living land mammal, African elephants live in a wide variety of habitats providing there is sufficient water. They have complex social relationships with matriarchs leading family groups of 2 to 50 animals.
Tanzania harbours one of Africa’s most significant remaining elephant populations, the only larger population being found in Botswana. In 1976, numbers in Tanzania stood at 316,000, but major declines in the late 1980’s and more recently between 2006 and 2015, driven by an upsurge in the illegal trade in ivory, decimated the population, with roughly 43,500 estimated in 2014. Numbers are starting to recover now thanks to improved conservation and the effective application of laws.
Historically, many of the countries significant elephant areas formed part of an elephant meta-population, with substantial dispersal between areas such as the Selous and northern Mozambique and Ruaha-Katavi and the north. Substantial habitat still exists in many areas, but efforts to improve the management of key wildlife corridor areas is a national priority.
Organized poaching for ivory remains a threat facing elephant populations across much of Africa, and although rates of poaching have dropped to a very low-level in Tanzania, the close monitoring of elephants is still warranted, as is periodic support to ranger forces if poaching is detected.
As the human population increases and natural habitat is converted to agriculture, the risk of human-elephant conflict also increases. While the improved management of wildlife corridors helps maintain a managed distance between elephants and humans, where elephants do encounter people, the mitigation of human-elephant conflict where possible is also an essential approach.
WCS has helped government and community rangers in their work to protect elephants. We supported the establishment and operations of elite ranger units and boat patrol teams, including more than 40,000-person patrol days, 4,231 hours of boat patrols, 1,973 hours of aviation support and more than 17,200km of foot patrols. Law enforcement monitoring has been enhanced through the adoption of SMART (https://smartconservationtools.org) at site, zonal and national levels. We have built ranger posts, protected area headquarters, airstrips and improved more then 510km of key protection roads. Above all, we have helped partners plan effectively through supporting the drafting of general management plans, standard operating procedures, and other national strategies.
Working with local communities, district authorities and others, three community forest areas have been formally established to protect key wildlife corridors – providing an opportunity for communities to benefit from the delegated management of local forest resources. As our understanding of elephant movements has improved, partnerships have also been forged more widely, including with Zambia.
These and many other interventions have helped bring ivory poaching under control and today the Ruaha-Katavi landscape harbours East Africa’s largest elephant population – estimated at 19,883 +/- 2,198 in 2021 by the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute. We expect to see an increase when we next survey the 92,500km2 landscape in 2024.