Tanzania’s Elephant Management: Two Steps Forward But One Step Back?
September 2015, Volume 13-4

Two recent articles gave me some food for thoughts. The first one is a scientific paper published in 2015 in Land Use Policy, “Elephants over the Cliff: Explaining Wildlife Killings in Tanzania”. This paper presents an event that occurred in West Kilimanjaro in 2009 when numerous villagers chased a herd of elephants over a cliff, killing six of them, in retaliation for continuous crop damages. At that time conservation in the study area was implemented without local communities having any real influence on decision-making. This led to a feeling of being marginalized and disempowered, which caused resistance to conservation.

Although this was a tragedy for people and elephant both, Tanzania has since taken steps to improve human-wildlife relations, culminating in one of the most important reforms to Community Based Conservation policy implemented in Africa in recent decades: the Government of Tanzania has, during a workshop held in Arusha in early July 2015, dramatically improved the revenue sharing system governing its Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs).

The Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism ordered “urgent” review of the current WMA Regulations (2012) to strengthen WMA Governance systems at all level in order to enhance transparency, and also “urgent” review of Non-Consumptive Wildlife Utilization Regulation (2008) (affecting photographic tourism), including revised benefit sharing arrangement as follows: WMA 75%; Tanzania Wildlife Protection Fund (TWPF) 20%; District Council(DC) 5%.

The Minister also announced new benefit-sharing arrangements from tourist-hunting operations as follows (in brackets old percentages):

Block Fees: WMA 75%; TWPF 25%; DC 0% (No changes)

Game Fees: WMA 65% (45%); TWPF 25%; DC 10% (15%); Treasury 0% (15%)

Conservation Fees: WMA 70% (45%): TWPF 25%; DC 5% (0%); Treasury 0% (30%)

Observers Fees: WMA 70% (45%); TWPF 25%; DC 5 % (0%); Treasury 0% (30%)

Permit Fees: WMA 70% (15%); TWPF 25%; DC 5% (0%); Treasury 0% (60%)

This ground-breaking initiative places Tanzania right after Namibia in terms of the percentage of revenue sharing in favor of local rural communities. That is an impressive place to be. It is also an important step towards a full “devolution of authority to local communities” in the context of wildlife and natural resource management on which the Government of Tanzania has formed a national Task Force to analyze institutional arrangements needed to aim at the 100% of revenue sharing as in the Namibian CBRNM framework.

As I wrote in a previous article for African Indaba, Tanzania has finally recognized that “In the absence of economic benefits accruing from the elephant (or wildlife in general), negative attitudes towards the elephant will heighten and may place the elephant population under risk of increased poaching, which may reverse the progress made by many countries to date. To compensate for the direct costs associated with living alongside elephants, which include crop damage, injury and loss of human life, the elephant must yield economic returns to the landholders.” Tanzania’s new regulations put this recognition into action for the betterment of communities and wildlife.

This reform has enormous potential. The conservation community should give all possible support for its careful implementation.

The second article is a news item published on the Telegraph, a UK-based newspaper. Titled “Tanzania’s elephant catastrophe: ‘We recalculated about 1,000 times because we didn’t believe what we were seeing’” is an account of the 2013 and 2014 aerial surveys that took place in Tanzania, the latter under the Great Elephant Census project.

While the issues surrounding CBNRM are in the process of being addressed, the second article cast some shadows on Tanzania’s credibility. Not because of the poaching crisis, that nobody is denying, but for the increasing doubts that many experts have in the quality of the recent aerial surveys done by the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI).

Several questions remain unanswered, dating back to 2006, where a country-wide aerial survey was discarded by IUCN experts as unreliable.

The country-wide 2009 Survey apparently had no issues but the available and final report contains no record that cameras were used during the surveys, in particular the surveys of the Selous and Ruaha ecosystems. The use of cameras is not mentioned in the methodology in the published report, and therefore it is assumed that they were not used. As they were used in the 2013 and 2014 surveys this fact could seriously affect comparability.

In a KAZA TFCA Partner Countries Workshop held in Kasane, Botswana in April 2014 to plan for the Great Elephant Census (GEC), the use of cameras in elephant aerial surveys was discussed and remained unresolved following reports that in some cases the estimates of population numbers were lower when cameras were used. The GEC guidelines for the surveys were changed so that cameras did not have to be used where teams wished to retain comparability with previous surveys and time series data.

It can be argued that more reliable data was gathered from photographs, and that visual estimates over-estimated numbers. As I understand it, the resistance from southern African scientists centered on the ability of cameras to record animals under dense tree canopy cover. It’s much easier to spot animals by naked eye before they move out of sight, and hence out of the camera view. In any case the different methodology between the 2009 and 2013 and 2014 surveys should be accounted.

The 2011 Aerial Survey that took place in Selous is a mystery: no survey report is available.

The final reports of the 2013 Surveys in the Selous and Ruaha have not yet been made available and therefore many of the parameters of these surveys are still unknown. It is very difficult to analyze the reported estimates without full parameters and data available. The 2013 Survey used a methodology that has several differences with the MIKE Standards.

I refer in particular to paragraph 1.2 of Aerial Survey Standards for the MIKE Program Version 2.0 that states: “It is acceptable to change stratum boundaries from a previous survey to accommodate changes in population distributions or other requirements, as long as the overall survey area boundary is not changed. 

It seems to me that the overall survey area boundary, at least in Selous, has changed every year since the 2009 aerial survey. For example, in 2009 the survey area was 80,390 km2, 87,421 km2 in 2013 and 105,730km2 in 2014. This seem not to adhere to the MIKE standards quoted above, because of the ever changing strata boundaries and also because strata detail and accounts are not given in the report as it is done in several high quality Southern African aerial survey reports.

Moreover, note 13 of the Aerial Survey Standards for MIKE, referenced above, states: “The probability that animals will be seen is strongly affected by height, speed and strip width. Surveys done at different speeds and strip widths are therefore not comparable. A height of 300ft above ground is a standard for most surveys of elephants. As a measure of comparability, it has become common to characterize surveys in terms of searching rate, which integrates strip width and speed and which is expressed in area searched per unit time or time to search unit area.”

It seems that changing the strip width between surveys makes them incomparable as it could have happened between 2009 and 2013. The use of searching rate as a parameter apparently is now widely used to ensure comparability. This data is missing from the 2013 survey reports and is not clear in the 2014 reports of which I was given a copy after their public presentation in June 2015.

The comparability of the reports may be compromised if Tanzania is not adhering to MIKE standards and is changing the methodology every few years. This makes it hard to estimate how much Tanzania’s elephant population has fallen and how badly the country has been affected by poachers.

The 2014 Surveys found a very low 1+2 carcass ratio (i.e. the index of the elephant mortality rate during the year preceding the survey) in several ecosystems, including Ruaha-Rungwa which according to the 2013 Survey had an estimated elephant population of slightly more than 20,000 elephants and, according to the 2014 Survey, had only 8,200 elephants. How can an ecosystem lose 12,000 elephants in one year with a 1+2 carcass ratio of only 2% (11 elephants carcasses in category 1 and 2)? Could it also be that the 2013 was grossly over estimated, or the 2014 survey was grossly under estimated?

Among the hypotheses in the Survey reports, the most fascinating is that poachers are using a new technique and are hiding the carcasses! It is hard to imagine that these gangs of criminals who are slaughtering elephants at a superfast rate are then going around the bush with bulldozers to dig big holes and hiding the carcasses! But if this hypothesis will prove to be true a deep investigation will be needed into the anti-poaching abilities of Tanzania.

Suggesting they have their own concerns about the surveys, TAWIRI has recommended in the reports to repeat this survey and other ecosystems again!

I hope the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group that is now auditing and validating these surveys will come up with some responses to the doubts expressed above, provided that TAWIRI and the Government of Tanzania will give IUCN full access to the raw data of the 2014 and 2013 aerial surveys.

Aerial surveys are a fundamental tool not only to provide wildlife estimates but especially to guide management decisions. TAWIRI is no doubt trying its best in a difficult situation, but it has to probably improve its reporting (IUCN hopefully will dissipate the methodology doubts expressed above) so as to give wildlife managers the good guidance they can rely upon. It needs to take a step back, so that it can move forward again with management oriented surveys.

Author: Marco Pani

Marco Pani is an international consultant in wildlife trade and management with a keen interest in Community-Based Conservation. He has served for 5 years as Director of TRAFFIC Europe Italy’s Office, being instrumental in the drafting of the new CITES legislation of Italy, 3 years as Associate Enforcement Officer in the CITES Secretariat in Geneva and 9 years as staff in the Italian Ministry of Environment. He is a member of the IUCN Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi) and IUCN/SSC Crocodile Specialist Group, Vice-President of IWMC-World Conservation Trust and Advisor to Conservation Force.