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The sharp decline of the elephant population in the African country of Tanzania, most likely due to poaching, is catastrophic. That's according to a wildlife conservation group.
The Tanzanian government has just estimated that 65,721 elephants died in the country in the last five years. The report showed the number of Tanzanian elephants had plummeted. In 2009, there were an estimated 109,051. By 2014, the number was down to 43,330.
Steve Broad is the executive director of the wildlife conservation group TRAFFIC. He said it is incredible that poaching on such an industrial scale had not been identified and addressed.
The statistics back concerns by TRAFFIC in a 2013 report. The Tanzanian ports of Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar also have become main exit points for vast amounts of ivory, the group said in a statement.
At least 45 tons of ivory have flowed from Tanzania to international markets in Asia since 2009. That is according to the conservation group.
It said a breakdown across the country showed some smaller elephant populations had increased. In the famed Serengeti region, the numbers rose from 3,068 to 6,087 animals. However, beyond the most heavily visited tourist locations, elephant numbers were significantly down.
Of particular concern is the Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystem. Only 8,272 elephants remained in 2014. That is compared to 34,664 in 2009, according to government figures, the statement said.
"Tanzania has been hemorrhaging ivory with Ruaha-Rungwa the apparent epicenter. And nobody seems to have raised the alarm," Broad said. He urged the government to take action to bring the situation under control.
The Tanzanian government says it has added an additional 1,000 rangers to protect wildlife. But Broad said "there is a real risk that it could be a case of too little too late for some elephant populations."
In February, China imposed a one-year ban on ivory imports that took immediate effect. The ban came amid criticism that its citizens' huge appetite for ivory has fueled poaching that threatens the existence of African elephants.
Critical thinking challenge: Why is it likely that populations have grown in the heavily visited tourist locations?