Tanzania to employ high-tech computers for elephant census


Shadrack Mkandala, The Exchange

Date Published

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Tanzania is set to start using high-tech computers programs to count the number of elephants that in the country. It is a modern technological method that takes between six months and a year, and is far more efficient than the one that has been applied so far. 

A Senior Research Officer with the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI), Dr. Edward Kohi, said the new technology uses a special automatic program that notes and counts wildlife from the sky. He said they had been previously using photos taken by cameras from planes to count elephants, a method that is tedious and takes a very long time until results are obtained. 

Dr. Kohi, who doubles as coordinator of wildlife census at the institute, said the pilot project for the modern counting will be carried out next month in collaboration with the Glasgow University form the United Kingdom at Tarangire National Park, Tanzania`s sixth largest national park located in Manyara Region. 
`Tarangire is a park with many elephants within a small area, with more than 3,500 within 2,850 square kilometers; so we have found out it is the right area for our trial that will lead us to use the modern technology in conserving wildlife,` said Dr. Kohi.

According to Dr. Kohi, the Selous Game Reserve that measures 50,000 square kilometers leads in elephant numbers. It is estimated to have more than 15,000 followed by Serengeti National Park that has more than 6,000 in an area that measures 14,750 square kilometers. 

He further noted that the trials will be made in series with three censuses of the big beasts and will be done along with the old technology before the new one is applied. Dr. Kohi also said that initial trials had been done in counting hartebeests in Serengeti National Park and had been successful by more than 90 per cent. 
Serengeti is famous for having more than 1.3 million hartebeests that migrate each year from Masaai Mara National Park in Kenya.

Elaborating on the new technology, the senior researcher said that photos taken can differentiate clearly between elephants and other animals, later counting them and producing results. He said that a wildlife census was last done and produced results in 2015, showing a decrease in the number of elephants by 50 per cent, their number by then being 50,894. 

The statistics showing a decrease in the number of elephants had its source in a census that was carried out in 2009 showing that there were 109,000 of them. He attributed the decrease in elephants to an increase in poaching activities that are carried out in different parts of the country.

He however noted that poaching was now highly controlled and that had been due to the fact that it was rare to find elephant carcasses in areas where their research was conducted.