Ivory demand promots elephant population fall

African elephant numbers have dropped to 10,000. Picture: EPA
African elephant numbers have dropped to 10,000. Picture: EPA
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Poachers slaughtering elephants in Mozambique cut their population almost in half from 2009 to last year, but in Uganda, elephant numbers are increasing as a result of government anti-poaching measures, according to aerial surveys.

The illegal hunters have slaughtered tens of thousands of African elephants in recent years to meet demand for ivory, particularly in China. Conservationists and governments have collaborated on an aerial, continent-wide census of elephants to better marshal efforts to protect the wildlife. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is a project funder.

The New York City-based Wildlife Conservation Society participated in the counts in Mozambique in southern Africa, and Uganda in the east. It said this week that Mozambique’s elephant population dropped from just over 20,000 to about 10,300 during the five-year period, reflecting rampant poaching by organised crime rings.

Remote northern Mozambique, which includes the Niassa National Reserve, was the hardest hit, accounting for 95 per cent of elephant deaths.

The lower number was recorded during surveillance flights between September and November last year.

Celso Correia, Mozambique’s environment minister, has pledged action against the poachers, who sometimes work with corrupt state officials.

Under an initiative between the Mozambican ministry and police, a new force has been set up to patrol conservation areas and protect the elephants.

On 12 May, Mozambican police seized 340 elephant tusks and 65 rhino horns from a house in the city of Matola, according to the Mozambique News Agency. Two Chinese citizens were arrested, police said.

Police spokesman Emidio Mabunda said six officers were arrested on suspicion of stealing a dozen horns from the huge haul, which was supposed to be under police guard.

South African police said they planned to work with Mozambique to test DNA samples of the seized horns to see if they belong to rhinos killed in South Africa. Kruger National Park, a large South African reserve, is often targeted by poachers crossing from Mozambique.

In Uganda, elephant numbers have increased to more than 5,000 from fewer than 1,000 decades ago because of improved measures to protect elephants, the Wildlife Conservation Society said. It added that the Uganda Wildlife Authority, established in 1996, was key to the success.

Some elephants have migrated to Uganda from nearby Congo, where poaching has been severe, the conservation group said.