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Tanzania withdraws CITES application to sell ivory

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(eTN) – In what can only be described as a surprise move news is breaking that Tanzania’s government has withdrawn the application to CITES for the approval of the sale of 100 tons of legal ivory, w

(eTN) – In what can only be described as a surprise move news is breaking that Tanzania’s government has withdrawn the application to CITES for the approval of the sale of 100 tons of legal ivory, which was due to be discussed and decided at the forthcoming COP in Bangkok, Thailand, in early 2013.

The application was filed against widespread criticism by local, regional, and international conservation groups, in a renewed effort to sell ivory stocks, even though the same application was voted down at the last CITES meeting in Doha. At the time, CITES Secretariat in Lusaka compiled a report, highlighting the shortcomings in anti-poaching measures, clamping down on transit of blood ivory through Tanzania from other countries and improving key conservation measures. Recent seizures of major quantities of blood ivory in the Far East, traced back to Tanzania, also dented the reputation of the country further, making the application untenable, although at least one official in Dar es Salaam was reportedly claiming that the conditions set by CITES were impossible to meet for Tanzania at this time.

The Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Amb. Khamis Kagesheki, known for his no nonsense attitude, has during his time in office started to clear out corrupt and incompetent officers from the Wildlife Department, and, clearly rattled when the Hong Kong authorities named Tanzania as the source of the huge ivory haul impounded a few weeks ago, turned the heat on poachers by launching hitherto almost unprecedented crackdowns on smuggling routes. Several seizures in Tanzania over the past weeks confirm that the strong-arm tactics are working and producing results, a move warmly welcomed by the conservation fraternity in the country.

“Kagesheki means business. He commands respect, produces results, and has been able to get [the] cabinet to sanction tough action. I know you are highly critical of the general attitude of Tanzania over projects in parks and reserves, but it has also been noted you speak well of our Minister. The last one fell because he got exposed to what he was up to, but Kagesheki has changed things. He knows that tourism comes from consensus and from positive impressions about Tanzania overseas. So of course he knows what has to be done to reverse negative trends and PR.

“Withdrawing from the CITES bid is a good move in that direction. Maybe CITES can find a way to let legal ivory stocks be used when all proceeds are guaranteed for anti-poaching and conservation. This is a political decision our country must make and then find allies to support us. Now these news have not been reported in Tanzania yet, but I am sure we will hear about it after the holidays,” said a regular source in an exchange of emails when trying to get comments over the Christmas holidays.

Undoubtedly this piece of breaking news will be a surprise Christmas present for Tanzania’s conservation fraternity and their supporters in the region and beyond, and it is hoped that his change of mind will spell the beginning of a new partnership between a ministry led by an enlightened minister and the country’s conservationists, willing to forge a new alliance to win the war on poaching against the wildlife terrorists.