One of the largest wildlife preserves in Africa said a full year has passed since an elephant was killed by poachers, The Associated Press reported Saturday.
“It is a remarkable achievement,” James Bampton, country director with the Wildlife Conservation Society, told the outlet.
The Niassa reserve, an area larger than Switzerland and located in a remote part of northern Mozambique, is managed by the New York-based organization, which manages the reserve with Mozambique’s government and other partners.
The last elephant killed by a poacher in the Niassa reserve was on May 17, 2018, according to Bampton.
The conservation group credited Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi for personally authorizing a new rapid intervention police force and granting the elephants “a genuine chance for recovery.”
Bampton said the new elite unit was formed to combat poaching, adding that the rangers are better armed and have “a bit of a reputation of being quite hard.” The team is able to arrest suspected poachers and compile a case against them within 72 hours for a local prosecutor to take over, the outlet noted.
“Just being caught with a firearm is considered intent to illegal hunting,” Bampton said. The charges can carry a maximum prison sentence of 16 years.
Using aerial patrols has aided the anti-poaching squad in monitoring the sprawling reserve, however it will take years for Niassa’s elephant population to return to its former size.
A survey found the poaching over the years had cut the number of elephants on the reserve from about 12,000 to little over 3,600 in 2016.
The elephant population across Africa has plummeted from an estimated several million around 1900 to 415,000, according to surveys in recent years.
Bampton said he estimates there are fewer than 2,000 elephants in Niassa, but unpublished estimates suggest that there may be as many as 4,000 elephants as of October 2018.