TANZANIA (eTN) – Making a visit in Tanzanian wildlife parks, elephants make one out of five attractions tourists would like to watch, as a herd of jumbos stride elegantly with their calves between them.
Tarangire National Park in northern Tanzania and Ruaha National Park in the southern highlands are the most areas keeping big herds of African jumbos, threatened to disappear from escalating poaching fueled by the growing ivory trade in China, Vietnam, and other nations in the Far East.
The growing demand for ivory in China and other Far Eastern countries has been identified to decimate African jumbos with negative impacts on tourism development on this continent counted to be the number one tourist destination in this century.
China and Vietnam are the two South Asian states accused of pushing for illegal ivory trade with corrupt elements and lawless countries in Africa, doomed with poverty and wars.
Ahead of the First Pan-African Conference on “Sustainable Tourism Management in African National Parks and Protected Areas” organized by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) that will be held in Arusha, Tanzania, mid-October, wildlife poaching issues will be addressed.
According to UNWTO, wildlife parks and protected areas in Africa constitute one of the elements of the continent’s natural heritage. Sustainable use of these parks and protected areas has made it possible for the beneficiary countries to increase their economic revenue and positioned Africa on the world tourism map as a choice destination to engage in nature-based tourism.
But, poaching problems are facing African governments involved on conservation of nature, mainly the most hunted animals, the elephants and rhinos, and recently, the lions.
Tanzania and Kenya are African countries once known by their big population of elephants before the past two centuries, but their numbers had dropped down when notorious Arab traders invaded Africa looking for slaves and ivory.
Ivory trade took its course at an alarming level in East, Central, and West Africa where the Arabs hunted African elephants in East Africa and Congo, while European ivory traders hunted elephants in West Africa.
A profitable trade in ivory was carried out in the present Cote d’Ivore, the once elephant-inhabited country in Africa and which its name originated from the ivory by its richness and quantity. This country once had big elephant herds that used to frolic in its tropical forests.
Massive and notorious killing of elephants in Cote d’Ivore during the seventeenth century brought about such a decline in elephants that the trade itself virtually died after all elephants were almost depleted.
Today, after decades of carnage, there is almost no ivory left.
In Africa today, neither Arabs nor Europeans are interested in ivory trade at a massive rate, not more than Chinese and Vietnamese ivory traders known for corrupting African government officials and the military for poaching of Africa’s biggest land mammal, the elephants.
Reports from nature conservationists indicate that ivory is the latest conflict resource in Africa, dragged out of remote battle zones, easily converted into cash, and now fueling conflicts across the continent, taking the case study of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where rebels exchange elephant tusks for weapons and the government army kills elephants to raise more money for their pockets.
Members of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) fighting in northern Uganda are hunting down elephants and using the tusks to buy weapons and sustain their terrorism, conservation reports revealed.
Organized crime syndicates are linking LRA to move the ivory around the world, exploiting turbulent states, porous borders, and corrupt officials from sub-Saharan Africa to China.
The Somali terrorist militia group, the Al-Shabaab, are reported to have killed elephants in Kenyan parks. Reports say Kenya loses about two elephants every week to poaching with some of the proceeds said to be used to finance Al-Shabaab and other criminal groups.
Kenya Wildlife Services said in one of its reports that a kilogram of rhino ivory (horn) is costing up to US$65,000, with one animal producing between 6 to 7 kilograms, making a rhino horn more expensive than gold.
A kilo of elephant ivory (tusk) is fetching about US$2,000 on the black market. Kenya had lost 278 elephants to poachers in 2011 compared to 171 the previous year.
Burundi is an East African nation, notorious in killing elephants from its neighbors. This tiny and war-torn African nation is believed to own only one elephant – a single animal, but, when you visit various towns and villages in this country, you will find men and women selling elephant tusks in open markets, like selling carrots!
Government officials in Bujumbura are not interested to question any person found selling tusks. Tanzania and DRC remained key targets for Burundian poachers, mostly armed with Chinese-made weapons, Semi Automatic Rifles (SARs), and Sub Machine Guns (SMGs).
Burundi has been a hibernating ground for elephant and rhino poachers and ivory smugglers killing elephants and rhinos in Tanzania, Kenya, DRC, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, reports say.
A Burundi refugee, one Meshack Misongwe, was arrested by Tanzanian police in May this year on a poaching case and possession of three elephant tusks worth US$20,000.
The Burundian was a serial poacher in Katavi National Park in western Tanzania. He was found with SAR and SMG.
Refugees from Burundi in western Tanzania had so far, reported to have depleted elephants in that part of this country.
Roving in Tanzania’s capital and commercial city of Dar es Salaam, a segment of businessmen are driving very expensive and posh cars imported from Japan, Europe, and the United States, enjoying the ends of elephant poaching.
More than half of illegal ivory from Tanzania and Africa ends up in China, and the rapidly-growing number of Chinese nationals in Africa are frequently connected to poaching.
A report by the Elephant Trade Information System (EITS) noted that Chinese nationals have been arrested within or coming from Africa in at least 134 ivory seizure cases, totaling more than 16 tons of ivory in past years.
When constructing the Tanzania Zambia Railway line between 1971 and 1975, Chinese workers were blamed for poaching in Africa’s biggest wildlife reserve – the Selous Game Reserve in southern Tanzania. The Chinese were accused of slaughtering elephants at the time the railway crossed the park.
With the growing number of Chinese investors and traders in Tanzania, more cooperation is needed between governments of Tanzania and China in monitoring ivory trade.
Last year, more than 150 Chinese citizens were arrested across Africa, from Kenya to Nigeria, for smuggling ivory. And there is growing evidence that poaching increases in elephant-rich areas where Chinese construction workers are building roads.
The demand for ivory has surged to the point that the tusks of a single adult elephant can be worth more than 10 times the average annual income in many African countries. In Tanzania, impoverished villagers are poisoning pumpkins and rolling them into the road for elephants to eat.
Tanzania is the host of the UNWTO organized Pan African Conference on Sustainable Tourism with a focus on Park Management, that will take place from October 15 to 18 in northern tourist city of Arusha, and key speakers, including national parks executives, are going to present their case studies.
But, this African safari destination is not intending to ban legal elephant hunting. Mr. Paul Sarakikya, the acting Director of Wildlife in Tanzania’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, said elephant hunting permits will be issued in accordance with legal procedures.
He contended that official hunting conducted in accordance with regulations would have no effect on Tanzania’s elephant population.
“At the moment, Tanzania has 110,000 elephants, the second largest number in Africa after Botswana with 123,000 jumbos. This gives this country a potential to breed up to 150,000 jumbos,” he said.
But, tourist stakeholders in Tanzania argued that legal hunters would easily collude with poachers to kill elephants out of prescribed quota. They want the government to ban legal hunting of jumbos and stick to photographic tourism.
London-based Environmental Investigation Agency said in its recent report that 50 percent of illegal ivory traded globally originated from Tanzania.
The Tanzania National Parks Director General, Mr. Allan Kijazi, warned that this country was increasingly becoming a victim of an international syndicate of animal trophy traders whose demand was rising especially in the Far East.
“Poaching is a big problem in and outside the national parks, because we have to deal with a syndicate of trophy hunters with international connections,” he said.
Other than China and Vietnam, other countries more notorious for ivory and rhino horn trade include Japan, Taiwan, India, and others mostly in Asia, he said.
According to UNWTO, nature-based tourism or eco-tourism is a large and growing global industry, partially dependent upon the attributes of the natural environment and biodiversity, wildlife, and scenery which represent one of Africa’s strategic competitive advantages as a destination.