JUBA, South Sudan, July 2 (UPI) -- South Sudan says it has fitted elephants with GPS collars for remote tracking as part of an effort to protect its remaining elephants from ivory poachers.
The country's Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism, working with the Wildlife Conservation Society, placed collars on a number of elephants in late May and early June to track and monitor the majority of South Sudan's remaining populations, estimated to have dropped to fewer than 5,000 elephants, a WCS release reported Monday.
Elephant herds in South Sudan, thought to contain around 80,000 animals in the 1960s-70s, were decimated during years of civil war and the survivors are under increasing threat from ivory poaching, officials said.
The GPS/satellite tracking effort is part of an elephant monitoring and protection program initiated in 2009 that includes aerial surveillance, land-based anti-poaching patrols and intelligence-led enforcement.
"The elephant collaring is critical to improving our understanding of the location and movements of South Sudan's elephants and providing effective protection," WCS South Sudan Country Director Paul Elkan, said.
South Sudan officials said the effort was critical to tourism, a large contributor to the country's economy.
"The presence of these elephants breathes life and value into our national parks," Minister of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism Gabriel Changson Chang said. "We must do everything in our means to protect these magnificent creatures. It is our wildlife that will be the basis for developing tourism that will attract visitors from all over the world to South Sudan."