A Tanzanian business federation plans to test unmanned aerial vehicles in the Selous Game Reserve to assess their effectiveness in combating elephant poaching.

The initiative, led by the Tanzania Private Sector Foundation, will assist the government in combating poaching and boost efforts to preserve Africa’s elephants, Executive Director Louis Accaro said by phone Thursday from the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam. Testing of American- and French-manufactured drones will be conducted from April 27 until May 4, he said.

“This is a private sector initiative,” Accaro said. “As businesses, we have a role to play in combating poaching. The tourism industry plays an important part in our economy.”

Tanzania has lost half of its elephants since 2009, when the estimated population of the animals was about 109,000, the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency said in a report on the country’s poaching crisis in November. The East African nation is the largest source of poached ivory in the world, while China is the biggest importer of smuggled tusks, according to the agency.

The Selous Game Reserve in southern Tanzania covers 50,000 square kilometers (19,305 square miles), about the size of the Central American nation of Costa Rica. The World Heritage Site is among the largest protected areas in Africa and contains one of the most significant concentrations of animals including elephant, black rhinoceros, cheetah and crocodiles, according to Unesco.

The elephant population in Selous declined to 13,084 in 2013 from 38,975 in 2009, the EIA said.

Monitoring Poachers

After assessing the effectiveness of the drones, the business federation plans to seek government approval to allow their deployment by private companies, Accaro said. The aircraft will be used to monitor the movement of poachers, enabling law- enforcement agencies to track them down.

“As the private sector we intend to buy these drones and have them deployed,” Accaro said. “It has become clear that poachers are much cleverer and better equipped. That is why they are outwitting government law enforcement.”

African elephants are considered endangered, with about 470,000 left in the wild in 37 countries, according to the African Wildlife Foundation. Poaching of the animals for ivory is worth $165 million to $188 million a year when the products are sold in Asia, according to the United Nations Congress on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Tourism accounts for about 13 percent of gross domestic product in Tanzania and the industry employs 420,500 people, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. Companies in neighboring Kenya have adopted the use of drones to protect elephants in game reserves including the Maasai Mara National Reserve.

This article was written by Felix Njini from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Photo Credit: An elephant in Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania. Alexander Lindeskär / Flickr