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Wildlife protectionists urge Obama to discuss elephant poaching in Africa

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TANZANIA (eTN) – The escalating crisis on the poaching of elephants and trade of bloody ivory from Africa is a priority issue in which US President Barack Obama should broach during his week-long to

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TANZANIA (eTN) – The escalating crisis on the poaching of elephants and trade of bloody ivory from Africa is a priority issue in which US President Barack Obama should broach during his week-long tour of the African continent at the end of this month.

Termed as a continent rich in wildlife resources, best for tourism than all other continents of the world, Africa is currently facing a poaching crisis of its wildlife resources, mostly elephants, rhinos, and lions which are in great danger of disappearing from the continent.

Among the governments Mr. Obama is going to meet during his week-long tour of the continent, there is a demonstrated kind of weakness propagating the trade on bloody ivory and the illegal smuggling of live animals from this continent to the Middle East and Asia.

Wildlife protection campaigners in Tanzania are hopeful that the visit of the US President to Africa will broach the crisis of illegal trade on elephant tusks and take time to address such a problem to the governments he is going to meet, some of which are hiding corrupt officials behind ivory trade.

“We would like to see Mr. Obama speak [of] something about [the] escalating crisis on wildlife poaching during his official tour to Africa. He has the power to push African governments to take action, other than politics,” said wildlife campaigner John Pienes from New Zealand.

But, the US Ambassador to Tanzania, Alfonso Lenhardt, said this week that Obama’s visit to Africa will focus on investments, economic growth, strengthening of democratic institutions, and nurturing young leadership.

Lenhardt said Mr. Obama chose to visit Tanzania, which is among other things, an important investment destination. The US Ambassador did not mention more about the Obama tour.

Tanzania, whose corruption index is higher among African countries, has been listed as number four on elephant poaching and trade of bloody ivory in Africa, a trend likely to affect sustainable tourism development in this African nation.

The poaching of elephants and illegal export of live animals has so far been discussed by apex political and policy-making platforms, including Tanzania’s parliament, where the minority opposition members blamed the current government in power over poor monitoring of elephant poaching and illegal trade of live animals.

They blamed top echelons in political leadership for their closer cooperation with poachers, exporters, and the middlemen on ivory trade. China, a now dear friend of Tanzania’s ruling party and the government, is accused of catalyzing trade on ivory.

During his recent comments, German Ambassador to Tanzania, Klause-Peter Brandes, said corruption had been behind elephant poaching and illegal dealings with natural resources in Africa, while frustrating efforts on wildlife conservation and protection.

Germany is currently supporting Tanzania on various wildlife conservation projects through the Frankfurt Zoological Society and the central government in Berlin.

The Tanzania police force has been pin-pointed for taking a leading role on frustrating anti-poaching campaigns when some of its top brass were directly involved in corruption to protect elephant poachers.

From January this year, a score of police and other security officers were apprehended with ivory lots, while others were tracked by an anti-corruption unit.

The Legal and Human Rights Center, a human rights campaigning organization in Tanzania, accused the government of complicity and condoning killings of at least 237 innocent people by the police during the past 10 years. Human rights activists accused the police for condoning corruption and failing to combat crimes on poaching of wildlife.

Taking the big geographical size of Tanzania and poor access to both protected and unprotected wildlife areas, there is no exact data available to tell the correct number of elephants killed every day in Tanzania, but the Tanzania Elephant Protection Society (TEPS) estimates about 30 elephants are killed every day and 850 elephants are shot every month.

Africa is facing big challenges on anti-poaching and squandering its natural resources, an issue Obama should touch on while discussing development issues facing this continent, and he should press the governments he is going to visit to be more transparent on wildlife protection.

Bilateral and investment relations between China and Tanzania has been cited to speed up elephant poaching in Tanzania and Africa as a whole, wildlife protection campaigners warned.

“China is lobbying to be a number one investor in Tanzania, but the majority of tusks exported illegally from this African country end up in China due to the huge demand for ivory in China,” they said.

“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,” they noted.

“The Tanzania government should make investment from China and other countries strictly conditional on China tackling its demand for ivory at home, and stronger law enforcement collaboration to halt the flow of ivory from Tanzania to China,” campaigners said.

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 exists.

Previously secure populations in Eastern and Southern Africa are under growing threat, as a wave of poaching seems to be spreading east and southwards across the African continent.

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.

Similarly, the seizure of large shipments of ivory hit an all-time high in 2011, indicating an increasingly active, profitable, and well-organized illegal ivory trade between Africa and Asia.

The government of Kenya reports that 90 percent of ivory smugglers are Chinese citizens. Kenyan authorities vow to enact harsher penalties to “fight poachers at all levels to save elephants.”

Reports from nature conservationists indicate that ivory is the latest conflict resource in Africa, dragged out of remote battle zones, easily converted into cash,s and now fueling conflicts across the continent, taking the case study of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where rebels exchange elephant tusks for weapons and the government army kills elephants to raise more money for their pockets.

Members of the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) fighting in northern Uganda are hunting down elephants and using the tusks to buy weapons and sustain their terrorism, conservation reports revealed.

Organized crime syndicates are linking LRA to move the ivory around the world, exploiting turbulent states, porous borders, and corrupt officials from sub-Saharan Africa to China.

The Somali terrorist militia group, the Al-Shabaab, is reported to have killed elephants in Kenyan parks. Reports say Kenya loses about 2 elephants every week to poaching with some of the proceeds said to be used to finance Al-Shabaab and other criminal groups.

Kenya Wildlife Services said in one of its reports that a kilogram of rhino ivory (horn) is costing up to US$65,000 with one animal producing between 6 to 7 kilograms, making a rhino horn more expensive than gold.

A kilo of elephant ivory (tusk) is fetching about US$2,000 on the black market. Burundi is an East African nation, notorious for killing elephants in neighboring countries.

This tiny and war-torn African nation is believed to own only one elephant – a single animal, but, when you visit various towns and villages in this country, you will find men and women selling elephant tusks in open markets, similar to carrots!

Burundi has been a hibernating ground for elephant and rhino poachers and ivory smugglers killing elephants and rhinos in Tanzania, Kenya, DRC, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, reports say.

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.