THE elephant population in the country has decreased from 136,000 in 2005 to 43,000 this year, a recent census conducted by the African Wildlife Foundation has shown.
This 60 per cent decrease in only ten years has been attributed to, among others, poaching and illegal trade in wild animals.
According to a report availed in Dar es Salaam by the foundation’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr Patrick Bergin, at the launch of a Tanzania Wildlife Pride Campaign, the country has lost nearly 100,000 elephants in the last 10 years.
“The current rate of poaching, however, threatens to erode that distinction. As Tanzanians learn more about the crisis through the campaign, we hope they will work with us to protect this tremendous asset,” he said.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, in association with international NGOs WildAid and the African Wildlife Foundation and award-winning singer Ali Kiba, have launched a new public awareness campaign to inform the public about the severe poaching crisis currently facing Tanzania and to generate widespread support among civil society for the protection of elephants and other wildlife species.
The campaign will use television, radio, social media, newspapers and magazines, billboards and videos in public spaces in order to reach as many members of the public as possible, including residents in remote rural villages.
“Elephants are at the top of the ‘wish list’ for many tourists who come to this country, and tourism generates over 17 per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP),” said the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Mr Lazaro Nyalandu, who was the guest of honour.
“Our elephants are a great asset to this country in many ways and my government is determined to stop the slaughter. But we cannot do it alone; we want to enlist the help of all of our citizens to stop the theft of our national heritage,” Mr Nyalandu noted.
For his part, WilAid Chief Executive Officer, Mr Peter Knights, whose NGO is running the programme, said poaching of elephants was literally theft to all Tanzanians and to future generations.
“We invite all the media to participate in this campaign and we need everyone to help in the fight to stop it,” he insisted.
Religious leaders from Muslims to Evangelical Christians and Anglican and Catholic bishops have also recorded messages and offered their support.
“We don’t always agree on everything, but we all agree that poaching and the smuggling of ivory is completely wrong,” read part of their messages.
A recent WildAid/AWF survey of over 2,000 Tanzanians, in both rural and urban areas, found that more than 79 per cent of respondents said that it would matter a great deal to them if elephants disappeared from Tanzania, while over 73 per cent said they associated wildlife with their national identity and heritage.