Not a single elephant has been poached over the past year in Mozambique’s Niassa wildlife reserve, a major achievement that puts an end to what had previously been considered a crisis, according to the Associated Press.
Thousands of elephants in the reserve were slaughtered for their tusks over the past few years to feed the underground ivory market, causing the area’s elephant population to decline by nearly 75%, the Associated Press reports.
The sudden reversal of the poaching rate reflects major investments in surveillance and deterrence efforts throughout the park and the swelling of political support for elephant safety that has taken place in recent years. Mozambique’s President Felipe Nyusi has become personally interested in the protection of elephants, and authorized an elite police unit to conduct patrols throughout the park and apprehend poaching suspects.
Anyone found with a firearm in the park can face up to 16 years in prison, the Associated Press notes. The rangers have been supported by aerial surveillance that helps to identify potential criminals.
For the time being, the threat of poaching has been neutralized, meaning the park’s elephant population stands a chance of returning to its historic levels, James Bampton of the Wildlife Conservation Society told the Associated Press.
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In addition to poaching, African elephants are primarily threatened by habitat loss. As humans expand towns, cities, and transportation systems, elephants are losing their natural habitats, which makes it hard for them to find food, water, and safety.
Oftentimes, agricultural projects lead to deforestation in key elephant habitats. When elephants then raid these farms for food, they can be killed by farmers seeking to protect their livelihoods, according to Save the Elephant.
The Niassa reserve is roughly the size of Switzerland, and is connected by a wildlife corridor to a well-guarded reserve in Tanzania, which gives the elephants ample room to roam, find food and water, and take shelter.
Good news for #elephants: #Mozambique Govt @TheWCS and partners deploy comprehensive anti-poaching strategy resulting in 0 elephants poached in #Niassa for past year Read @AP report via @washingtonposthttps://t.co/Wvzd7VtioP#cites#wildlifecrime#wildlife#animals#conservationpic.twitter.com/WOHOIxq1wZ— WCS Newsroom (@WCSNewsroom) June 15, 2019
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In recent years, countries around the world have begun to restrict the sale of ivory, helping to drive down demand for the product. Nonetheless, an underground market still exists, which continues to incentivize the hunt for elephants.
The anti-poaching efforts in Niassa are reflective of a larger trend of successful conservation initiatives throughout Africa. Countries including South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Kenya have also reduced poaching by investing in better policing efforts.