TANZANIA (eTN) – Reacting to circulating reports over escalating crime on poaching of elephants and the bloody ivory trade, Tanzania government said more than 1,000 poaching suspects were booked in the span of a year.
Officials from the ministry of Natural Resources said Wednesday this week that 1,200 suspected poaching criminals were arrested and booked before the courts of law. Court punishment for a convicted poacher can be a fine of only US$13.
Neither data nor number of elephants poached and jumbo killers booked before the law during the year in question, 2012, and March this year, are available. Wildlife conservation officials only said several people were arrested, some were charged for crimes on poaching, while others were in possession of high-caliber hunting guns.
In what independent wildlife conservationists call “politics versus conservation,” the Tanzania government has been politicizing conservation of wildlife through the parliament and other instruments of state, making poaching of elephants hard to monitor and control, while corruption within security and wildlife conservation units has become an order of the day.
Government wildlife conservation officials said 670 cases were carried in different courts across Tanzania by last year up to March this year where poachers were fined US$109,377 in total.
But, the gravity of elephant poaching in Tanzania has gone far, involving corrupt officials within conservation units, state security, and potential individuals including politicians and businessmen.
At the moment, Tanzania has 110,000 elephants, the second largest number in Africa after Botswana with 123,000 jumbos. This gives this country a potential to breed up to 150,000 jumbos.
Dr. Charles Foley, head of Tarangire Elephant Project in northern Tanzania said elephant poaching and trade in bloody ivory is becoming a major threat to the East African jumbos.
Dr. Foley reported that thousands of elephants are being poached annually and a record amount of illegally traded bloody ivory from Tanzanian elephants is being seized after being transported through Tanzanian and Kenyan ports.
He (Dr. Foley) will this year implement a conservation plan to protect a new elephant project through funding of US$ 90,000 collected through donations from parking for last year’s Super Bowl for the Indianapolis Zoo in the United States.
“The Indianapolis Zoo is proud to support this vital work in helping to save African elephants, the world’s largest land animal and one of the most intelligent and fascinating creatures on Earth,” Dr. Foley said.
Killing of elephants and the seizure of illegal bloody ivory in Tanzania and Kenya have soared to their highest levels in recent decades. Tanzania’s port of Dar es Salaam and the Zanzibar port in the autonomous island of Zanzibar are the major transit points for ivory destined to the Middle East and Asian countries of the Far East.
Media investigations raised an alarm over a syndicated underground network of smugglers. From 2009 to 2011, Tanzania was the leading exporter of bloody ivory in the world. Thirty-seven percent of all elephant tusks seized by law enforcement in Europe and other ports came from Tanzania, with neighboring Kenya coming second.
Conservationists say Tanzania has for years been one of Africa’s worst elephant slaughterhouses. They blame authorities who are unable or unwilling to control poaching and live animal trafficking.
The government of Tanzania acknowledges there is a problem and says reforms are under way, a notion that justifies “politics versus conservation” when dealing with poaching of elephants and other endangered species.
Tarangire National Park in northern Tanzania and Ruaha National Park in the southern highlands keep big herds of African jumbos.
During the First Pan-African Conference on “Sustainable Tourism Management in African National Parks and Protected Areas” organized by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and held in Tanzania’s northern tourist city of Arusha in October last year, wildlife poaching issues will be addressed.
UNWTO said 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.
A well-detailed report released by the Tanzania Elephant Protection Society (TEPS) a few months ago noted that though Chinese investments were important in the country’s economy and development, they shouldn’t compromise the country’s natural wildlife conservation efforts.
The report states clearly the current rate of 30 elephants killed every day and 850 elephants shot every month in Tanzania poses unprecedented risks to the country’s elephant population perishing in the next 7 years.
“China is the number one investor in Tanzania… but the majority of tusks exported illegally from Tanzania end up in China due to the huge demand for ivory in China,” the report affirms.
“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… this requires political will and strong leadership,” the report said.