Elephant massacre in Niassa Reserve -17,000 killed in eight years


Antonio Tiua, The Club of Mozambiqwue

Date Published

See link for photo. 

The elephant in the Niassa National Reserve is at risk of extinction. The expression sums up the most visible consequence of what is, in fact, a massacre.

It has been eight years of devastation for the elephant population in Mozambique’s largest conservation area, threatening the conservation of biodiversity in an ecosystem which has the potential to become the largest transboundary conservation area in the world.

The Niassa Reserve, located in the provinces of Cabo Delgado and Niassa, covers a total area of 42,300 square kilometres, twice the size of South Africa’s Kruger National Park. But this vast conservation area has only about 400 rangers; one ranger per 100 km2, which makes the task more complicated.

It is as a result of this fragility and the growing international pressure of organised trafficking in ivory that the last years have been years of elephant killing. 

In 2009, according to local mapping data, there were 20,118 elephants in the Niassa Reserve, but by 2016 there were only 3,675 left. So in 16 years, 16,360 elephants were killed in the largest concentration of conserved animals in the country.

One of the most daring episodes came in December of last year when poachers shot down a family of seven elephants less than 10 kilometres from the reserve base camp, but rangers were only able to reach the site 24 hours later. 

It was rainy season and, over and above the difficulty of navigating the dirt roads, the crew had no boats to cross a river whose flow was elevated by the rain.

“When we arrived we found only the carcasses. They had already extracted all the tusks and left. They only left the tusks of a young elephant behind,” José Sitoe, Chief of Reserve Surveillance explains, stressing his concern about the growing pressure on elephants. 

“The poachers tend to shoot everything in their path. They’re not even be guided by quality, which would make them at least spare the younger elephants,” he says.

Since 2012, to combat the rampant destruction of wildlife resources, the main focus of the reserve has been the training of rangers in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society. From 2012 to date the rangers force has indeed grown, but is still far short of the number needed to protect the area.

But reserve managers rate 2018 as a relatively quiet year in terms of elephant poaching.

Mbatamila Camp, the reserve’s headquarters, showcases the tusks, firearms, traps and other hunting equipment seized by the men who are sworn to defend the reserve’s natural resources.

Tanzanian poachers are considered the most dangerous, and measures have been taken to reinforce surveillance along the Rovuma River, the natural border between the two countries. The need to bolster control over movement in the main areas of animal concentration has been identified as an important anti-poaching measure.

Other species such as lion and wild dog are also at risk and the focus of additional efforts by the anti-poaching teams.