In The Roots of Heaven, Morel labors to preserve elephants from extinction. Romain Gary's famous novel was written in 1956, but his hero's fight still stands today. As in other African countries, Mozambique is seriously afflicted by the recent upsurge in elephant poaching.
Nearly half of Mozambique's elephants have disappeared since 2006. In response to this alarming situation, the government has strengthened its legislative framework in recent years. To help the country's conservation areas cope with threats to biodiversity, the international community has also bolstered its support.
At the end of 2018, in order to monitor the elephant population’s evolution and measure the efficiency of the deployed efforts, AFD financed a national elephant census in Mozambique - the first in almost five years - as part of the Protected Areas and Elephant Conservation in Mozambique (APEM) project.
Under the guidance of the National Administration of Conservation Areas (ANAC), a team of Mozambican and international experts flew over a total area of 180,773 km². Objective: count elephants, document the type and location of human activities in conservation areas and estimate the number and location of other species of interest.
A challenging process
For nearly two months, the experts flew over the country at a fixed height of 91.4 m (300 feet) in two small aircraft using the transect count method. This involves defining strips of a certain width, counting all individuals observed in these strips, then extrapolating the results to the entire area being surveyed.
From elephants to leopards, hippos to buffaloes, a total of 42 different animal species were observed. Moreover, ANAC members accompanied the experts during the census, in order to receive training and eventually enabling them to plan and carry out this delicate mission themselves.
22,000 elephants target
Subsequent to these two months of counting, in order to correct the errors detected, the collected data were converted to digital format and then submitted to an analysis of the preliminary data. Yet the process is far from complete.
In order to ensure the data's reliability and comparability with past censuses, a team from the African Elephant Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) will, in turn, analyse and potentially adjust the data before the final results are published.
Said results are of the highest political significance: the Mozambican government has set a target of at least 22,000 elephants on its territory as part of its 2017-2021 five-year plan, which feels reminiscent of the "margin" mentioned by Morel in Gary's ecological manifesto, where "something other than what helps to make soles for shoes or sewing machines, that [man] should leave a margin, a sanctuary, where some of life’s beauty can take refuge".