The rainy season is now ending in Tanzania. In the coming months, WWF will increase its field activities to stop poaching in the Selous and secure the future of one of the most important protected areas in the world.
George Atanasi and Said Nkinga are Selous Game Reserve rangers. They were Selous rangers before it became a World Heritage site in 1982 but can still remember the first time they saw an elephant and the happiness they felt. Hearing them talk about the wildlife, mountains, forests and springs it is hard not to be infected by their passion. However their work has been seriously challenged in recent years.
There is no escaping the fact that Selousâ€™ elephants have been decimated over the past 40 years. Driven by waves of industrial scale poaching the population has crashed by almost 90% to 15,217 elephants. During the last poaching peak in 2013 six elephants were being killed each day in the Selous â€“ 2,190 elephants a year. Although recently through the combined efforts of the government and other organizations this has slowed. The government has stepped up its anti-poaching efforts and developed an Emergency Action Plan that WWF will be active in 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 about it; this is very ambitious given the scale of historical poaching. However it is also very exciting as we believe it can be done working together with the Tanzanian Wildlife Authority and the supporters of the Selous.
This is not only 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. It is not only about the Selous Game Reserve and its effective management in the future but ensuring that the wildlife trafficking is stopped by working with the law enforcement agencies.
On any given day there may be no elephants 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 â€“ carcasses and signs of poaching â€“ snares, poachersâ€™ camps or gunshots.
Globally WWF has worked with other expert organizations to produce a zero poaching toolkit. This sets out the actions needed and has been successful in Nepal and a number of other countries are starting to adopt this process to stop rhino poaching.
The zero poaching toolkit highlights six areas that underpin it. In the Selous WWF is focused on three of them: the community, increased prosecution for wildlife crimes and increased ranger capacity in the Selous. For example, WWF is working with the Tanzanian Wildlife Authority, the Selous Management and partner organizations like Frankfurt Zoological Society 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 on the populations. One of the key pressures is the loss of their habitat. African elephant habitat has declined by over 50% since 1979.
WWF is working not just to stop this trend decline but reverse it and one focal area for this effort is the 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 the habitat remains 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, 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 challenge and a long-term challenge. People have said that it is unachievable in Selous but that wonâ€™t stop us from supporting rangers, including George and Said, who face the threat of poachers every day they are on patrol. Any poached animal is unacceptable to WWF 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 the Selous this looks like:
Assessments: Carrying out through assessments on current actions and developing a clear monitoring program to assess the effectiveness of law enforcement. This will allow us to truly understand how things have changed; not just on stopping poaching but the systems that ensure this.
Capacity: WWF will 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 enhance the effectiveness of its rangers, making sure they can communicate effectively across the reserve and effectively share information and keep our rangers safe.
Communities: Communities are the eyes and ears of the Selous and play a crucial role inÂ stopping poaching both within and outside the reserve. Communities need to see protected areas as a resource which provides value to them. While Selous is a massive reserve, it is not an island. Unless we have strong positive relationships and links with local communities and external law enforcement agencies, we will not be able to sustainably stop poaching.
Prosecution: There is nothing that deflates ranger moral 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 impact on the Selous. Strong partnerships and communication enable increased synergies between stakeholders and therefore increased impact.
Dr Amani Ngusaru,
WWF Tanzania Country Director