(eTN) – The Tanzanian government has come under severe criticism when news emerged that one of the five Eastern Black Rhinos brought from South Africa earlier in the year, has been found dead with the horns removed by poachers. The news were greeted with dismay among conservationists from around the world, especially those dealing with the conservation of the rhinos in particular.
The five rhinos, a further nearly 30 are due to follow, were received with much fanfare and a huge PR campaign, and President Kikwete himself had traveled to the Serengeti to witness the offloading of the five rare rhinos from the aircraft upon arrival from South Africa. The entire exercise is expected to run into the hundreds of thousands of US dollars in cost, to capture the animals in South Africa and then fly them in batches of 5 or 6 at a time to Tanzania, with money coming from the Tanzanian government, donors, and development partners, who had hoped to restore the rhinos to their original habitat.
Meanwhile though, plans by Kikwete to build a highway across the migration routes of the Serengeti have created a global coalition against these plans, with key world bodies like UNESCO, AWF, WWF, and others demanding that this plan be halted and the highway routed elsewhere. The Serengeti’s UNESCO World Heritage Status is subsequently now in danger, and Tanzania’s reputation as a conservation nation, has received deep dents and scratches abroad – especially in the crucially important countries where the tourists to Tanzania come from – over not just these plans but other mis-steps, too.
During the last CITES conference in Doha, Tanzania applied to sell dozens of tons of ivory, a request refused and rejected by the forum, but instead of learning lessons from the no vote from the delegates at the CITES conference, the former tourism minister and her mouthpieces cried foul, blamed some of their neighboring countries for having “spearheaded an anti-Tanzania campaign,” and vowed to submit a fresh application to CITES for the next global meeting. It was also learned recently that the Tanzanian customs department is trying to circumvent the CITES regulations and the expressed ban by auctioning off confiscated ivory, claiming only “raw” tusks were falling under the ban but not “processed or semiprocessed pieces.” This has already been challenged by conservationists and their legal teams, pointing out that besides CITES, other global regulations apply, which make shipping and exporting or importing such ivory illegal and subject to potential criminal charges, besides confiscation at the destination.
The slaughter of one of the rare rhinos also exposed glaring gaps in the protective mechanisms of TANAPA and other security agencies, as the animals, equipped with satellite beacons, are to have protection details nearby around the clock, and further translocations of rhinos may now well be held back, until Tanzania – already under fire for a lack of anti-poaching and anti-smuggling efforts in general – can show cause that they are both capable of providing budgets and manpower but also politically willing to “toe the line.”
It was also learned that sources in Germany are now asking questions about the donation of 2 million euro in funding and equipment for TANAPA by the Frankfurt Zoological Society earlier this year, aimed to prevent exactly such slaughter by poachers, and TANAPA officials will have to answer precisely what measures they had put into place to protect the five Eastern Black Rhinos and ensure their survival and where their plans and efforts failed and how the donated funds were spent.
One thing is for certain though, while we bemoan on an almost daily basis the ongoing massacres on rhinos and wildlife in general in Southern Africa, this was also a black day for the entire conservation fraternity in Eastern Africa.