Tanzania is finally celebrating a massive repopulation of its rhinoceros species that were almost at the brink of total extinction in the past few years.
The black rhinoceros, native to Eastern and Southern Africa is red-listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered after years of relentless poaching pushed the species to near extinction . Although it has zero benefits scientifically, the horn of the black rhino is an important ingredient in Asian traditional medicine. The black rhino horn trade was internationally banned in 1977, but it still fetches a lump sum on the black market, mostly to Chinese and Vietnamese buyers.
According to Tanzania’s President John Magufuli, the rhino population has soared 1000% since he assumed office in 2015 . In a statement that has been met with a lot of doubt and skepticism from wildlife conservationists in the area, the president said that there were only 15 rhinos in the area at the time he assumed office. He initiated a relentless crackdown on poaching gangs killing the animals for their prized horns. Now, the numbers have increased to 167, a stunning 1000% climb. The elephant population has also soared since ivory mongers were not spared in the purge either.
A reversal in the fate of condemned wildlife
When President Magufuli took over in 2015, he vowed to use all forces necessary, including his task personal force, to conserve the country’s wildlife. Four Chinese men smuggling horns out of the country were caught soon after and jailed 15 to 20 years each. This sent a strong warning to many poaching gangs in the area as several other clampdowns were made.
In February 2019, a Chinese businesswoman based in Tanzania, “the ivory queen” was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the illegal trade of over 350 elephant tusks.
“As a result of the work of a special taskforce launched in 2016 to fight wildlife poaching, elephant populations have increased from 43,330 in 2014 to over 60,000 presently,” government officials said, as reported by Al Jazeera .
However, several conservationist groups have countered the president’s claims due to discrepancies in stipulated figures. According to a document provided by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Tanzania had 133 rhinos in 2015, and not 15, as the president claimed .
“This sounds like very good news but we should view these figures with caution until there’s independent verification – there’s no way that has occurred through breeding and protection alone,” said Mark Jones, head of policy at Born Free Foundation, to the Independent .
This statement also included the growing numbers of elephants in the area. Jones insists that the exponential population growth must be attributed to other unstated factors aside from reduced poaching and increased reproduction.
“They mature late, have long gestation periods and don’t produce many young. Both species take a long time biologically to reproduce,” Jones said.
There’s still a long way to go
Records show that the black rhino population in Tanzania during the 1970s was over 10,000. Today, there are less than 200 of them roaming the wild, a clear indication that while the species may be slowly repopulating, they are still very critically endangered. A slight change in the situation could still lead to a total wipe-out in the country.
A similar decline has been seen in the African elephant population from the start of the 20th century. In Africa, elephant numbers have dwindled from over 10 million as of the 1900s to about 415,000 in 2019 . These steep population declines are not only hurting the wild and disrupting natural ecosystems, but they are also negatively affecting the economies of the countries most affected.
Tourism is a major source of revenue in Tanzania where thousands of people – vacationists and researchers – flock to the country each year for tours of the expansive wild. Tanzania’s plains are filled with big games of different species including the big cats, lion, buffalo, leopard, elephant, sable, kudu, roan, eland, hippopotamus and many more.
Poaching hasn’t been completely phased out in the country, but the government is on the right path to successfully secure a safe and protected wild for their animals. Conservation efforts have seen the country’s revenue from tourism climb from $1.9 billion in 2015 to $2.5 billion in 2018.
- Black Rhinoceros. IUCN Red List. https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/6557/16980917. Retrieved 12-02-2020
- Joe McCarthy. Rhino Population Surges 1,000% in Tanzania Following Poaching Crackdown. Global Citizen. https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/rhino-population-rising-in-tanzania/.
- Editor. Elephant, rhino populations on the rise in Tanzania: Gov’t. Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/07/elephant-rhino-populations-rise-tanzania-gov-190710134437337.html. Retrieved 12-02-2020
- African and Asian Rhinoceroses. CITES. https://cites.org/sites/default/files/eng/cop/17/WorkingDocs/E-CoP17-68-A5.pdf. Retrieved 12-02-2020
- Jane Dalton. Endangered rhino and elephant numbers rise after crackdown on poaching, says Tanzania. Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/rhino-endangered-numbers-tanzania-poaching-elephant-horn-ivory-china-a8999821.html. Retrieved 12-02-2020
- Africa’s elephant population plummeting, conservation groups warn. Al Jazeera America. http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/12/2/conservation-groupswarnthatelephantpopulationisrapidlydecreasing.html. Retrieved 12-02-2020
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