Failing to combat poaching of elephants and illegal trade in ivory, Tanzania has been placed under the United Nations (UN) spotlight for possible trade sanctions, while conservationists are looking at international intervention to end crime in poaching of wild species in protected and unprotected areas of Tanzania. By APOLINARI TAIRO.
Reports from the United Nations system in Tanzania’s capital of Dar es Salaam said the UN is currently holding serious discussions with the Tanzanian government to sign several agreements that would help enforce anti-poaching operations.
The UN is considering tough and diplomatic measures that would encourage the Tanzanian government to re-enforce anti-poaching operations targeted to save elephants and rhinos from extinction.
Tanzanian Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Mr. Lazaro Nyalandu said his ministry, which is responsible for conservation and protection of wildlife, was in a roundtable discussion with the UN and other donors looking at the best approach that would end poaching of elephants and other wildlife species in this country.
But United Nations diplomats had ranked Tanzania among African elephant range countries notorious for poaching, so far, threatening tourism development in these countries.
African elephant range countries under the UN spotlight are Kenya, Zambia, Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda, and Central African Republic (CAR).
Tanzania is in the UN spotlight as both a transit area for bloody ivory and a producer of illegal ivory.
The just-released UN report had indicated an average of 45 elephants killed per day in every 2 of 5 protected sites in Africa, with Tanzania counted among the countries where poaching of elephants was an order of the day.
A joint report by 4 international conservation organizations says that 17,000 elephants were killed in 2011 alone, and the amount of ivory seized has tripled over the last decade.
“Organized criminal networks are cashing in on the elephant poaching crisis, trafficking ivory in unprecedented volumes and operating with relative impunity and with little fear of prosecution,” says Tom Milliken, an expert on ivory trade with TRAFFIC, a global wildlife trade monitoring network.
The joint report warns that increasing poaching levels, as well as loss of habitat, are threatening the survival of African elephant populations in Central Africa and in previously secure populations in West, Southern, and Eastern Africa.
The report was produced by the UN Environment Program (UNEP), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (TRAFFIC).
The 17,000 elephants illegally killed in 2011 lived at sites monitored through the CITES-led Monitoring Illegal Killing of Elephants program; these sites hold approximately 40 percent of the total elephant population in Africa. The report warns that initial data shows the situation has not improved, and the true figures may be much higher in rural areas where poaching is protected by local leaders.
In most parts of Tanzania, poaching of elephants has been taking place with no information getting into the ears of government security or trained conservationists. Remote western and southern parts of Tanzania has such poaching crime going unabated.
Given the rate at which they are being slaughtered each year, African elephants could be extinct over the next decade, says the Wildlife Conservation Society, an animal protection organization.
Conservationists say the current elephant population in Africa suggests alarming declines in their numbers in parts of Central and West Africa, as well as an increasing risk of extinction for some local populations.
Africa used to have a few million elephants at the turn of the century, but current estimates put the continental population in the range of 420,000 to 650,000. Tanzania, Botswana, and Zimbabwe account for well over half of them, living mostly in protected parks.
Earlier last year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that elephant slaughter for tusks was surging in the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Chad, and Gabon.
“Poachers are using more and more sophisticated and powerful weapons, some of which, it is believed, might be originating from the fallout in Libya,” the Secretary-General said in a report to the UN Security Council.
“Criminal networks operate with relative impunity, as there is almost no evidence of successful arrests, prosecutions or convictions,” says the UN report.
Furthermore, “The prevalence of unregulated domestic ivory markets in many African cities, coupled with the growing number of Asian nationals residing in Africa also facilitates the illegal trade in ivory out of Africa,” the report adds.
It’s not just the elephant population that is threatened by illegal killings; local communities suffer, too. “The surge in the killing of elephants in Africa and the illegal taking of other listed species globally threaten not only wildlife populations but the livelihoods of millions who depend on tourism for a living and the lives of those wardens and wildlife staff who are attempting to stem the illegal tide,” says Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director.
Numerous solutions have been proposed and adopted in the past to stamp out poaching but with mixed results.
According to Ban Ki-moon’s report, “The situation has become so serious that national authorities in some countries, such as Cameroon, have decided to use the national army in addition to law and order enforcement agencies to hunt down poachers.”
Last May, the Kenyan parliament increased penalties for wildlife poaching and trafficking of ivory to up to 15 years in prison along with huge fines. According to authorities, poaching has reduced Kenya’s elephant population from 160,000 in the 1960s to 38,000 today.
Even with efforts to increase fines and jail time for offenders, poachers are still on the prowl. Anti-poaching campaigners are demanding that authorities properly investigate and prosecute all those involved in exporting elephant tusks especially to the Far East. UNEP has called for follow-up investigation of any large-scale seizure of ivory going from Africa to Asia, and for trans-boundary criminal intelligence units.
“Unless the necessary resources can be mobilized to significantly improve local conservation efforts and enforcement along the entire ivory chain, elephant chains will falter, poaching will continue and illegal trade in ivory will continue unabated,” the UN report says.
Elephant tusks are of high value in the Far East, particularly in China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia, where many use them for ornamentation as well as for religious purposes. With booming economies the demand can only increase.
Increasing numbers of poachers in Africa are ready to supply these markets. They slaughter these big African jumbo and chop off the tusks using sharp milling saws.