Mystery of missing elephants solved (Tanzania)


Henry Lyimo, Daily News

Date Published

The missing elephants at Ruangwa-Ruaha ecosystem that were found during verification census might have been hid under thick forests and as a result were missed in the earlier count or may have had moved beyond census zone.

The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Dr Adelhelm Meru told the ‘Daily News’ that the verification census on the jumbos had proved their view that number of the animals were missed in the earlier count.

The verification census conducted during the dry season from 16th September to 13th November 2015, at the Ruaha-Ruangwa ecosystem which contains the largest population of elephants in Tanzania showed the number of the jumbo was 15,836, bringing to between 11,077 and 20,595 the true elephant population size at the ecosystem when margin error of plus or minus 4,759 elephants is considered.

“The verification census agrees with our long-held views the elephants were just missed in the first count,” he said . Dr Meru said there was evidence of several active corridors used by elephants to move back and forth into the census zone but the number of animals involved is yet to be determined.

He said researchers concluded that there was significant number of elephants that were missed in the first count due to possibly change of behaviour as results of camera traps showed elephants were active from dusk to mid night and hence may have been missed when the census was conducted in the morning hours. Clustered distribution could cause undercount if few large groups are missed by chance in the sampled area.

The reverse is true where few large groups happen to fall within transect lines, he said. The main objective of the second survey was to verify the unprecedented low estimate of elephant population estimated in 2014 compared to the previous estimate of 2013. The 2014 wildlife census at the ecosystem put the number of the jumbos to 8,000 down from over 20,000 in the previous count in 2013.

The government, wildlife experts and Conservationist were baffled by the sudden vanishing of more than 12,000 large elephants from the Southern Tanzania precinct as per 2014 census, even though the study indicated that the Jumbos were neither poached he said.

“We were all puzzled 12,000 were missing which is equivalent to 34 elephants a day. That was impossible,” he said noting that one should have seen fresh carcases in killings of such big number of elephants which was not the case.

The government, through the Arusha-based Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI), decided to run fresh census focused in Ruaha-Ruangwa to satisfy themselves over the issue of vanished jumbos, he said.