How healthy is the Elephant population in Mozambique right now?

The mighty elephants of Mozambique have experienced turbulent times since the age of discovery. Hunting, poaching, civil war and encroaching humans have completely changed their feeding grounds and their home as they have always known it. What happened to the elephants of Mozambique? Elephant tragedy in the Civil War and the ivory trade; conservation success stories in top national parks. 

African elephants, those majestic giants of the bushveld, are the epitome of economic, ecological, cultural, and aesthetic richness. These huge, graceful mammals reveal sophisticated social cohesion, reflecting individual genius and united intelligence in their herds. African elephants play a vital role within complex ecosystems as ‘keystone’ species and natural habitat transformers. Elephants are widely adored and admired so where they exist opens doors for better environmental protection, boosted fundraising efforts, raising awareness, and actioning broader conservation efforts.

An elephant in the African wilderness
Need help remembering which is an African elephant and which is an Asian elephant? Check out their ears! African elephant ears are, rather helpfully, the shape of Africa.

Culturally, elephants symbolize strength and power to many African tribes and tourists seek them out on game drives to connect with their surreal tranquility and magnitude.  This makes it even sadder that the future of African elephants teeters on the brink of uncertainty. Ominous threats loom over these iconic savanna animals including habitat loss due to human encroachment, ivory poaching, and human-wildlife conflict.  In some populations, threats are so bad that some nations could lose entire elephant communities within the next 10 to 25 years. Those tasked with safeguarding natural heritage in Africa face an ever-daunting task and many have joined the African Elephant Range States (AERS).

According to the Mozambican Conservation Area Administration (ANAC), there is still hope for Mozambique’s elephants as the country’s commitment to conservation has maintained its population at a resilient 10,800 since 2014.  The CITES Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) Program monitors the illicit killing of elephants, builds management capacity, and provides crucial information to aid in decision-making for range states. The meticulous monitoring of elephant mortality, where every discovered carcass becomes a piece in the puzzle, reveals insights into the challenges these magnificent creatures face.

In addition, the African Elephant Action Plan, adopted by 32 range states, aims to secure and restore sustainable elephant populations throughout their present and potential range. It represents the commitment of African nations to protect the ecological, social, cultural, and economic benefits these elephants bring.

In the heart of Mozambique, elephants tend to venture beyond protected spaces, sparking human-wildlife conflicts. Elephants Alive, a South African NGO, leads groundbreaking research into how elephants traverse borders, stressing the importance of preserving ancient routes and vital wildlife corridors. They use innovative transboundary satellite tracking across Southern Africa, covering nearly 3000km of trans-frontier conservation areas, identifying crucial wildlife corridors that demand protection. There are more stories about the collared elephants weaving through Maputo National Park to Niassa Game Reserve. 

Niassa National Reserve

The massive Niassa Special Reserve in northern Mozambique embraces a staggering 42,300 square km. It is intricately connected to the Selous Game Reserve in southern Tanzania and the Quirimbas National Park on the coast by the Selous-Niassa corridor. Claiming 31% of Mozambique’s protected land, Niassa is home to a robust population of elephants (4-4,500), plenty of lions (1,000-1,200), elusive leopards, wild dogs (400-450), sable, kudu, wildebeest, and zebra. However, poaching caused the once-thriving elephant population to decline from more than 70,000 in the early 2000s to about 20,000 animals by 2016.

baby elephant calf under its mother hiding
Did you know? Baby elephants stay with mum for up to 10 years. They even learn to eat by putting their trunks inside their mothers’ mouths to take food.

Other threats include crude mining causing habitat destruction, river pollution, bushmeat extraction, and the ominous expansion of local criminal networks. Since 2004, the Niassa National Reserve has been a CITES MIKE site, in a joint effort with the National Administration for the Conservation Areas (ANAC), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the European Union. Together they secure wildlife law enforcement with the Elephant Protection Program within the reserve.

Niassa is one famous Mozambique National Park

Gorongosa National Park

Once scarred by civil strife, Gorongosa National Park now conserves a resilient elephant population. The shadow of wartime poaching reveals a new generation of tuskless female elephants, bringing to the table complex questions about genetic inheritance. Pre-1969, Gorongosa sheltered 2200 elephants but some 15 years later, less than 200 remained. 

Gorongosa elephants assume a pivotal role as they push trees over, and graze diverse plants, opening up the landscape for other grazers and herbivores. Devoting a remarkable 16 hours a day to their voracious appetites, their gigantic dung balls serve as both fertilizer and seed dispersers, a delectable feast for Gorongosa’s dung beetles.

An aerial view of Gorongosa wetlands in Mozambique
Gorongosa National Park is one of the most ecologically diverse regions in the world!

These elephants are truly wild and not used to human proximity so they can be skittish and react to vehicles with a retreat or defensive displays. It’s their way of communicating, a subtle yet powerful message: maintain a respectful distance. Seeing elephants on a Mozambique safari in Gorongosa is life-changing! 

In 2011, the Gorongosa Restoration Project invited ElephantVoices to monitor their elephants and since October 2012, their annual expeditions to Mozambique have unveiled the stories etched in the lives of Gorongosa’s elephants. Data from 2019 reveals 28 families within two clans—Urema and Pungue—alongside approximately 168 independent adult males.

Visit Gorongosa in 2024

Maputo National Park

The Special Elephant Reserve was formed in 1960 to preserve the local elephant population and by 1969, it had become the Maputo Special Reserve, symbolizing a broader commitment to conservation beyond elephants alone. Historically, elephants moved naturally between KwaZulu-Natal and southern Mozambique but the Mozambican war from 1975 to 1992 herds to the perils of landmines and snares meant for smaller game. To secure their safety on the South African side, the northern border of Tembe Elephant Park was fenced in 1989 but this protective measure unfortunately halved the once-thriving elephant population.

baby elephant walking in the tall grass
Home to an ever-growing and diversifying wildlife, with rare and endangered species, Maputo National Park is one of the most striking areas of biodiversity globally.

 

Today, Maputo National Park is home to more than 400 elephants. The creation of the Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation Area has helped to reunite fragmented elephant populations and resurrect ancient movement corridors, including those along the Futi system and Rio Maputo floodplains. Elephants can move to the fertile Maputo River floodplain on traditional seasonal migrations. Elephants Alive has successfully collared six elephants within Mozambique’s Maputo National Park with the help of other conservation organizations to learn more about their movement patterns.

Tours to Maputo National Park from Maputo

Zinave National Park

Situated in the Inhambane Province of Mozambique, Zinave National Park covers 408,000 ha and is an integral part of the Mozambican component of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area. Successful elephant translocations have boosted Mozambique’s elephant conservation in Zinave National Park. 

The groundbreaking internal translocation, the first of its kind in Mozambique, of 37 elephants from the Maputo River on the fringes of Maputo National Park to Zinave National Park reveals the level of commitment to elephant conservation. These elephants have joined the ranks of another 170 elephants translocated over the past four years, forming a founding population that will enhance the genetics of Zinave’s current elephant community and later restore other parks facing a scarcity of elephants.

An African elephant in the middle of the wild bush
Interesting fact ~ Elephants make sounds that we can’t even hear. Some of their calls are so low, they are below the range of human hearing!

In 2019, De Beers initiated their Moving Giants initiative, offering to relocate 101 elephants from the Venetia-Limpopo Nature Reserve in South Africa to Zinave, in collaboration with Peace Parks Foundation. Zinave’s sprawling 400,000 hectares boast an abundance of trees and grasses, a veritable banquet for elephants. Thanks to a collaborative effort involving ANAC, the Peace Parks Foundation and various wildlife organizations, the African elephant is now listed as ‘endangered’ on the IUCN Red List. 

Elephant Facts

Elephant herds are led by a matriarch and organized into complex social structures of females and calves. Male elephants tend to live in isolation or small bachelor groups. Females give birth to one calf every four to five years and are pregnant for 22 months, the longest gestation period of any mammal. All females in the herd care for the calves. Elephants need vast areas to survive as hungry herbivores devouring tons of foliage, volumes of water and kilometres of space.  One elephant eats hundreds of kilograms of food a day for up to 18 hours – so as they lose their habitat, human-wildlife conflict intensifies. We have pieced together what happened to the elephants of Mozambique in a story of elephant tragedy conservation successes. The mighty elephants of Mozambique now remain safe in top national parks.