Tanzania’s Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) and WCS released the results of a massive wildlife survey showing that elephant numbers have stabilized in a key landscape known for rampant poaching just a few years ago.

An estimated 20,145 elephants were recorded during the 20 day survey, which consisted of 380 aerial transects over 20 days. The survey covered 29,855 square miles (77,326 square kilometers) of the Katavi-Rukwa and Ruaha-Rungwa landscape and included parks, game reserves, and other protected and conservation areas. The often neglected Lukwati-Piti Game Reserve area in the center of the survey area is of key importance, especially as a seasonal wildlife refuge. The results confirm that this landscape is the most important in Eastern Africa in terms of elephant numbers and contains the largest population on the continent outside of Zimbabwe and Botswana.

Far fewer elephant carcasses were found compared to 2015 when the last survey took place, indicating that poaching is now being brought under control – though a few were still detected in some areas. This marks the first evidence of elephant stabilization and recovery in Tanzania since the onset of the second great ivory crisis which began in the late-2000s.

“The results of these surveys give us cautious optimism,” said Tim Davenport, WCS Director of Species Conservation–Africa. “Elephants were found across the survey area – justifying the need for future surveys to also be conducted at a landscape level and pointing to the considerable importance of wildlife corridors and dispersal areas.”

Said Simon Mduma, Director General of TAWIRI: “It is very encouraging to see stability in wildlife numbers in this vital landscape, and we believe this shows clearly that conservation efforts of TAWA [Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority], TANAPA [Tanzania National Parks Authority] and WCS are succeeding.”

Formerly, Ruaha-Rungwa and Katavi-Rukwa were treated and surveyed separately. This survey showed why they are one interconnected ecosystem as well as the critical role of wildlife corridors to elephant conservation and management, and the value of intact ecosystems and strongholds generally.

WCS has targeted reducing elephant poaching throughout the landscape by working with government partners to support communities and law enforcement. This has included ranger training, setting up rapid response units, SMART law enforcement monitoring, extensive aerial reconnaissance, intelligence and evidence gathering, infrastructure development and working with villages in key wildlife corridors.

In addition to elephants, the survey confirmed the status of 29 other key large mammal species. The most abundant species included 44,110 buffalo, 14,530 impala, 11,722 zebra, 11,733 eland, 5,145 giraffe, and 7,573 sable. An increase in puku was also recorded – an exciting finding since it is one of only two remaining populations in the entire country and now perhaps the largest.

The aircraft for the survey work was provided by WCS and TAWIRI, and funded by WCS, USAID, the Government of Tanzania, and the Wyss Foundation and the Wyss Campaign for Nature.