Obama hears the voice of wildlife conservationists

TANZANIA (eTN) – In an apparent move to express his concern for the survival of African wildlife, US President Barack Obama launched an initiative in Tanzania aimed at combating illegal wildlife trafficking and curbing widespread poaching of rhinos and elephants in Africa.

Announcing the US position on poaching crime before ending his official visit to Tanzania yesterday, Obama said his administration will put new energy and funds into fighting wildlife trafficking, which he cited “an international crisis that continues to escalate.”

Speaking to journalists with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, Obama said, “Poaching and trafficking is threatening Africa’s wildlife, so today I issued a new executive order to better organize US government efforts in this fight so that we can cooperate further with the Tanzanian government and others.”

Obama’s executive order creates a high-level, inter-agency Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking. Within six months, the Task Force will develop a national strategy to fight wildlife trafficking “and to consider how the US transnational organized crime strategy can be used to combat the issue, as it does other serious crimes like human trafficking and arms trafficking.”

To this effect, the order will provide advice and assistance, and within six months the Task Force will create an eight-member Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking made up of people from the private sector, former US government officials, and representatives of non-governmental organizations.

“Poaching operations have expanded beyond small-scale, opportunistic actions to coordinated slaughter commissioned by armed and organized criminal syndicates,” the Executive Order states.

Obama directs the task force to focus on anti-poaching, regional law enforcement, law enforcement mechanisms, and reducing illicit trade and demand both in the United States and abroad, “while allowing legal and legitimate commerce involving wildlife.”

The new initiative “includes additional millions of dollars to help countries across the region build their capacity to meet this challenge,” Obama told reporters in Dar es Salaam, “because the entire world has a stake in making sure that we preserve Africa’s beauty for future generations.”

The White House announced that up to US$10 million in new financial support has been set aside to help tackle poaching for ivory and rhino horn.

This funding includes approximately US$3 million in bilateral assistance to South Africa, US$3 million in bilateral assistance to Kenya, and US$4 million in regional assistance throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

The survival of protected wildlife species such as elephants, rhinos, great apes, tigers, sharks, tuna, and turtles has beneficial economic, social, and environmental impacts that are important to all nations,” Obama states in the Executive Order.

“Wildlife trafficking reduces those benefits while generating billions of dollars in illicit revenues each year, contributing to the illegal economy, fueling instability, and undermining security,” Obama writes.

Worst among African nations with an alarming rate of elephant and rhino poaching crimes, Tanzania had failed to control mass killings of elephants, scattered in protected and unprotected areas.

It is estimated that the total continental population estimate is in the range of 420,000 to 650,000 African elephants living in just 3 countries – Botswana, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe accounting for well over half of these elephants.

Top political figures and echelons from Tanzania’s ruling party have been mentioned and connected with global syndicates engaged in masterminding and dealing with elephant poaching.

Members of the Tanzanian parliament sought to implicate the ruling party’s echelons to the networks of businessmen directly involved in illegal global tusks business – a situation they said was fueling elephant killings in Tanzania.

They (Members of Parliament) maintained that the current government of Tanzania had neglected anti-poaching campaigns aimed at saving the lives of the African jumbos, while the same government is eating from the same plate with businessmen involved in poaching and protecting politicians at the expense of endangered wildlife and national heritage.

Parliamentarians said elephants in Tanzanian-protected national parks, among other East African states, are endangered, with the parks losing revenues obtained through tourism, losing their prestige as reports of elephants perishing spread around the world.

Freeman Mbowe, outspoken Member of Parliament, said there has been an increase in elephant poaching where about 850 elephants were reported to have been killed within a month. The statistics show that, roughly, every day 30 elephants are slaughtered through poaching in Tanzania.

Dar es Salaam port on the Tanzanian capital city has been pointed as a notorious transit for elephant tusks to China, Vietnam, and Japan. Corruption within taxation and clearing departments has been cited to catalyze shipment of elephant tusks to the Asian states.

Tanzania Elephant Protection Society (TEPS) pointed a finger to Chinese businessmen, warning, “Tanzania’s partnership with China is of great benefit to the country’s economy and development, but it must not be at the expense of Tanzania’s vital natural resources and tourist industry.”

According to the global organization, Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE), an estimated 17,000 elephants were illegally killed in 2011 – a figure likely to be over 25,000 in the continent. For many of the range states in Central and Western Africa, the extent of the killings now far exceeds the natural population growth rates, forcing their elephants into widespread decline and putting them at risk of extinction in those countries.

The total African elephant populations remain stable owing to effective protection in parts of Southern and Eastern Africa, where the majority of the elephant population.

Rhino poaching is rampant in Tanzania, but, most of these animals have disappeared, while few remained in highly-protected parks. About 3 years ago, wildlife conservationists blamed Tanzania after one of 5 Eastern Black Rhinos from South Africa were gunned down inside the Serengeti National Park.

The five rhinos were airlifted and relocated in the Serengeti from a South African wildlife park.

Seizure of large shipments of ivory hit an all-time high in 2011, indicating an increasingly active, profitable, and well-organized illegal elephant ivory and rhino horn trade between Africa and Asia.

Elephant and rhino poaching levels are the worst in a decade, and recorded elephant tusks seizures stands at their highest levels since 1989, according to statistics provided in 2012 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES.