CNN

Story highlights

  • 90% of elephants lost in 40 years
  • Project plans to collar 60 elephants

(CNN)Protecting elephants from poachers in a reserve larger than Switzerland is no simple task.

In Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve the population has been under threat for decades, and numbers are dwindling. Almost 90% of the park’s elephants have been lost over the past 40 years.
“Tanzania has been extremely hard hit by the latest elephant poaching crisis that has hit the African continent for 10 years,” Bas Huijbregts, WWF’s African species manager, told CNN.
In an effort to get a grip on the situation, a new project launched by the Tanzanian government, with support from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), is the country’s largest ever elephant collaring effort to protect the rapidly declining population.
“It’s our team on the ground that has been working with the government teams to put those collars on,” Huijbregts said.

Guarding elephants

A herd of elephants in Mikumi National Park, Tanzania.

<img alt=”A herd of elephants in Mikumi National Park, Tanzania.” class=”media__image” src=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/180410120550-elephant-tanzania-18-large-169.jpg”>

The project will span 12 months and around 60 elephants are expected to be tagged.
The aim is to enhance the ability of the park’s rangers to protect the elephants, and in turn help rebuild the population.
The rangers will be able to track and identify Selous’ elephants, and respond in real-time when they are under threat. Satellite collaring is an established method of tracking wildlife and bolstering efforts to save species under threat, especially in such large areas.
“You can’t just protect by the physical presence of rangers,” Huijbregts said.
The majority of poaching of elephants is for ivory. The situation has got so perilous for the park’s elephants, in response, in 2014, UNESCO placed Selous on its List of World Heritage in Danger.
In 40 years elephant numbers have plummeted from 110,000 to 15,200.
Collaring an elephant takes around 30 minutes. The animals are sedated and then collared. During this time, a team will also collect health data about the elephant.
Selous Game Reserve also hopes to boost the numbers of tourists. It’s a relatively underserved park compared to reserves in the north of the country.
“It’s an important economic driver for southern Tanzania,” Huijbregts said. “There’s a huge tourism potential.”