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Elephant population on "catastrophic" decline in Tanzania

By Amy R. Connolly
Elephant population on "catastrophic" decline in Tanzania
An elephant herd, led by a Magnificent 'Tusker' bull at a waterhole in the Addo Elephant National Park. Photo by David Steele

NAIROBI, Kenya, June 2 (UPI) -- A wildlife conservation group said Tuesday a reported "catastrophic" decline of elephants in Tanzania is due to the East African country's inability to control a flood of poaching.

The Tanzanian government found the country's elephant population, one of the largest on the African continent, dropped some 60 percent in five years, from 109,051 in 2009 to 43,330 in 2014.

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"It is incredible that poaching on such an industrial scale has not been identified and addressed before now," said Steven Broad, head of the conservation group TRAFFIC.

The new information backs concerns raised by TRAFFIC in 2013, which pointed to a sharp shift in ivory smuggling routes to Tanzania's Indian Ocean ports, in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, as the main exit points for ivory trafficking. At least 45 tons of ivory left Tanzania by airplane into Asia, the group said.

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John Scanlon, the secretary general of Cites, the United Nations authority that oversees the trade in endangered species, told The Guardian: "These figures reinforce our grave concerns about the scale of poaching of elephants in Tanzania for their ivory, and the smuggling routes through Dar es Salaam and neighboring ports."

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Of increased concern is the Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystem, where 8,272 elephants remained in 2014, compared to 34,664 in 2009, the group said.

"Tanzania has been hemorrhaging ivory with Ruaha-Rungwa the apparent epicentre and nobody seems to have raised the alarm," the conservation group said in a written statement. "It is clearly essential that the government establish exactly how this has been allowed to take place, while taking urgent and incisive action to bring the situation under control."

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