“Rampant” poaching is wiping out Mozambique’s elephants and threaten the very existence of the species in the southeast African nation. In just five years, those engaged in the illegal wildlife trade have cut down the country’s elephant population to 10,300 from more than 20,000.
That’s a 48 per cent decline, according to the country’s latest survey released May 26, which was conducted in partnership with Wildlife Conservation Society. Officials blamed “criminal gangs” for decimating the species, even from within national parks, for their ivory.
“These survey results are sobering; criminals have taken a staggering toll on Mozambique’s wildlife and natural resources,” Cristián Samper, the society’s president and CEO said in a statement. “But I am hopeful that the government of Mozambique, working with partners in the NGO and development community, as well as neighboring nations, will bring criminals to justice so elephants can thrive once again here.”
Celso Correia, the country’s Minister of Land, Environment and Rural Development, made the announcement as a new conservation deal was signed with neighbouring Tanzania. (That country will release its national elephant census on June 1.)
Correia promised new steps to stop the bleeding; that curbing ivory poaching – as well as rhino horn trafficking – are new priorities for the Mozambique government.
Those include tough new laws that criminalize poaching and bring in stiffer sentences. The attorney-general’s office now has staff dedicated to prosecute wildlife crimes and there’s a new environmental police unit.
More work still needs to be done, but there are some positive signs.
Already this year, poachers have been arrested, firearms seized, and tusks recovered. Police and military officials who had been helping poachers have also been stopped.
“To reverse this situation, we have to act now, in five years it will be too late,” Dr. Carlos Lopes Pereira, ANAC Head of Law Enforcement and WCS Mozambique Technical Director added.