Zip. Nada. Not one. Officials at a large African wildlife preserve are celebrating . . . nothing: Not a single elephant found killed by poachers, that is.
Niassa Reserve in northern Mozambique is one of Africa’s biggest wildlife preserves. It is larger than the entire country of Switzerland! Years of aggressive elephant poaching at Niassa had cut the reserve’s elephant population from about 12,000 to just over 3,600 animals. Previous anti-poaching strategies had reduced the number of God’s largest land beasts killed. But officials believed the rate was still far too high. (For related information, see Elephant Poaching in Botswana at https://teen.wng.org/node/4810.)
But there’s good news. According to data released this summer, Niassa Reserve hasn’t recorded an elephant killed by a poacher since May 17, 2018. Experts call that extraordinary.
The turnaround at Niassa is the result of a new rapid intervention police force at the reserve. Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi personally authorized the law enforcement group. He is eager to see poaching reduced in his country.
The new police agency conducts aerial surveys from planes and patrols the old-fashioned way—on foot. The team beats the bushes looking for signs of illegal poaching. Plus, the force uses better weapons than the reserve’s normal rangers.
Response to suspected poaching is also strong and swift, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which helps manage the reserve. Suspected poachers are arrested quickly in efforts to bring them to justice.
James Bampton of WCS says the force has “a bit of a reputation of being quite hard.” He says, “Just being caught with a firearm is considered intent to illegal hunting.” It comes with a maximum prison sentence of 16 years.
Bampton acknowledges that the low number of remaining elephants at Niassa is a factor in poaching’s decline. Fewer elephants equals fewer deaths.
Wildlife experts have seen gains against elephant poaching elsewhere in Africa. Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve is a poaching hotspot. It is linked to the Niassa reserve by a wildlife corridor. That reserve has also noted a recent decline in poaching.
It could be many years before Niassa’s elephant population can rebuild to its former levels—even if poaching is kept under control. But the zero-poaching record has brought hope. The elephant population could someday recover at Niassa.