Driven by the dwindling number of big game in the Selous-Mikumi ecosystem in Southern Tanzania, the country has announced an aerial wildlife census.
The count mainly targets large mammals like elephants, buffaloes and rhinos in the vast ecosystem.
The survey, which uses a sample count method called Systematic Reconnaissance Flight (SRF) will extend to giraffes, warthogs and antelopes like elands, greater kudu and sable.
It also seeks to estimate wildlife distribution and check for signs of illegal human activities such as poaching, animal grazing and logging in Selous Game Reserve, Mikumi National Park and the Selous-Niassa corridor.
This, Tanzanian wildlife agencies say, will in turn speed up the provision effective protection and management mechanisms and the protection of natural resources in the reserve as well as selected communities.
With the information gathered, the survey will provide data for evaluation of wildlife populations and trends in the ecosystem.
The three-week census will be jointly carried out by the Tanzanian Wildlife Research Institute, Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority and Tanzania National Park in partnership with the Frankfurt Zoological Society.
It is implemented as part of the Selous Ecosystem Conservation and Development Programme, which is funded by the republic of Tanzania and the Federal Republic of Germany.
Selous Game Reserve, which is one of Africa’s largest protected areas and internationally recognised as a Unesco world heritage site, has in the recent been confronted with a myriad of environmental challenges.
Between mid-1970s and early 1980s, the reserve witnessed a massive decline in the number of elephants.
Authorities say the population dropped from 109,000 to 31,890.
Nonetheless, conservation efforts saw a significant recovery as the elephant population jumped to 65,000 in 2006.
From the late 2000s, an upsurge in poaching, which was driven by the soaring global demand for ivory especially in southeast Asia, reduced the elephant population to 14,867.
This resulted in the reserve relinquishing its position as the foremost stronghold sanctuary for elephants in Africa.
It was consequently inscribed on the list of world heritage sites ‘in danger’ in the same year.
The country has made great strides in fighting poaching and has effectively strengthened the Selous Game Reserve management and protection structures.
“We have seen tremendous efforts by the government to improve law enforcement in the ecosystem, including reinforcement of patrols as well as global concerted efforts to fight illegal wildlife trade,” Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute Director-General Simon Mduma said.
The Selous-Mikumi ecosystem aerial wildlife counts, have been conducted after every four years from 1976.
The census was planned for 2017 but had to be deferred due to extensive tree canopy in a large area of the reserve.