TANZANIA (eTN) – Making a quick visit to 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, but threatened to disappear from escalating poaching fueled by the growing ivory trade in China, Vietnam, and other nations in the Far East.
US President Mr. Barack Obama was scheduled to visit Mikumi National Park, some 300 kilometers southwest of the Tanzanian capital city of Dar es Salaam, where he would know more about African elephants and dangers ahead for these biggest terrestrial mammals.
Mikumi National Park, one among the leading tourist parks in Tanzania, is today as well, threatened by escalating cases of elephant poaching fueled by the growing trophy markets in China and other nations in Asia.
President Obama would see big herds of elephants feeding in an African wilderness, numbering up to 200 each. Mikumi National Park is one among African wildlife parks breeding many elephants.
Being among three countries Mr. Obama is visiting, Tanzania stands among African countries nestling corrupt officials in key political and government departments, and who continue squandering natural resources which this African nation has been endowed with, including tourism and wildlife resources.
Poaching of elephants, rhinos, and illegal trade on live animals is an issue of major concern to the US government when discussing a pertinent development agenda for Tanzania, wildlife protectionists pointed out.
Tanzania’s elephant population had declined from 109,000 elephants in
2009 to the current estimate of less than 70,000 elephants last year in a rate of about 10,000 elephants gunned a year.
Estimates are currently counting 30 elephants killed per day or 10,950 elephants will be killed in 2013, if this slaughter is allowed to continue unabated, said Dr. Alfred Kikoti, a Tanzanian wildlife expert for the World Elephant Center Project.
“The last of our elephants will be killed in seven years’ time – the year 2020.
This wanton decimation of Tanzania’s elephant herd will impact on the national economy through declining tourism revenues and diminished employment prospects, while Tanzania’s reputation as a beacon of conservation in Africa will no longer exist,” said Dr. Kikoti.
Elephant poaching in Tanzania is even worse than the 1970s to 1980s wave of poaching, which led to establishment of anti-poaching operations.
Dr. Kikoti said poachers need to fear that there is a high chance of arrest and conviction, but equally important is the demonstration of political will and the increased use of intelligence to identify and arrest the ivory traders in the country who are driving the poaching, while greater security is needed at all potential exit points from the country to seize ivory.
“Simultaneously, we need to address the root cause of the current poaching vis-a-vis the demand for ivory from southeast Asia, especially China, [the] Philippines, Japan, and other nations, and the current high price of ivory,” he noted.
“Poachers will continue to be easily recruited from Tanzanian villages until the price comes down, which is unlikely to happen until demand reduces. To save Tanzania’s elephants, the government of Tanzania must apply more pressure on its partners in Beijing, Manila, Tokyo, Dubai, and the other known points of transit and sale and delivery,” Dr. Kikoti added.
Those Asian governments need to be pressured to ban the domestic ivory trade and (or) the shipment of ivory across their territories and through their entry ports.
Common strategies are needed to combat the trade, which in a long-term, Tanzania has the capacity to successfully protect its elephants, as it did throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.
In the short-term, however, western donors and governments must step up rapidly to assist Tanzania, bypassing lengthy bureaucracy to provide the extra funds, expertise, and equipment required to defeat elephant poaching, and the police and judiciary must apply the effective laws that exist, the expert had said.
But corruption has been sourced to catalyze poaching of Tanzanian elephants. The seizure by customs officials in Hong Kong of 384 elephant tusks valued at US$1.4 million (2 billion or 10.85 million Hong Kong dollars) two years ago has once again put Tanzania’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism in the spotlight.
Elephant poaching has gone out of control in the country, a situation that is causing the biggest stumbling block to Tanzania’s bid to sell its huge ivory stockpile, stakeholders are warning.
And international conservation organizations contend that there must be in Tanzania well-coordinated syndicates that have demonstrated great capacity of repeatedly shipping out large quantities of ivory and which should be regarded as a national security issue.
The Shadow Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Peter Msigwa, said while he has been vocal on poaching in general and has disciplined officials over illegal exportation of live animals, Tanzanian government has been silent over the increasing illicit ivory trade, “which is unusual.”
Mr. Msigwa claimed that all indications point to the fact that poaching is now beyond the control of the government.
“Not only the minister responsible for protection of wildlife has remained mum over the recent seizure of jumbo tusks originating from the Dar es Salaam Port; he has also failed to act on a list of ‘well-placed’ individuals who are involved in the illicit trade,” he said.
The government announced a few weeks ago, that it has reapplied to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to sell over 101,005 kg of its ivory stockpile valued at over US$55.5 million, saying the money would be used to fund anti-poaching operations.
In 2010, Tanzania unsuccessfully applied to be allowed to sell 90 kg of its stockpile, then valued at US$20 million. Officials from Traffic International identified Tanzania and Kenya as the largest exit points of illegal ivory in the African continent.
Between 2009 and 2011, seven large-scale ivory seizures involving ivory traceable to Tanzania were made, according to the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) that tracks illicit trade in ivory.
“These seizures collectively represent nearly 20 tons of elephant tusks. It is worth noting that only a single case involves a seizure made in Tanzania, whilst all other cases went undetected until they were seized in Asian transit countries,” Tom Milliken, an ivory trade expert working with TRAFFIC was quoted as saying.
Tanzania currently faces a major illegal ivory trade challenge, said Mr. Milliken, adding that no successful investigations, arrests, or convictions have been made, a situation which suggests that law enforcement machinery in Tanzania is not meeting with much success in disrupting the organized crime syndicates behind this trade.
“The movement of one ton of ivory or more at a single time represents the work of organized criminal syndicates in the trade,” Mr. Milliken said. Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar are exit points for ivory from elephants killed in other parts of Tanzania.
Dr. Richard Thomas, TRAFFIC International Communications Coordinator, said it is the real fact that Tanzania is “consistentl, as well, being used as a departure point, a situation which indicates that smugglers consider Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, and other Indian Ocean ports on the coast of Tanzania as relatively “safe.”