Television viewers in Britain were taken by surprise in the middle of May 1989 when, on two successive mid-day news bulletins on ITV, Tanzania was not only the main news item but also occupied a major part of the news. A coup d’etat is usually necessary before normally peaceful Third World countries can receive such prominence in the British media.
The subject was the elephant and the danger of its complete disappearance from most of Africa in the not too distant future. President Mwinyi had, in discussions with Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, Honorary Chairman of the World Wildlife Fund, on May 21st stated that he advocated an international mandatory ban on trade in ivory. And, to the delight of conservationists, he had, not only the enthusiastic support of Kenya, but within the following month, the support of a large part of the world.
Events moved rapidly.
On May 26th Mrs Virginia Bottomley announced in Parliament that Britain would urge the whole European Community to impose an immediate ban on the import of raw ivory. She even went as far as to say that she would have no objection to SAS troops being used in tracking down poachers. On June 9th Britain announced its ban.
On June 5th France banned ivory imports. Most EC member countries followed suit during the following days; Switzerland announced its ban on June 12th.
On June 6th the United States, and, very significantly, the Emirate of Dubai – a key link in the chain of ivory trading – announced import and trade restrictions on ivory.
Finally, on June 15th, Japan, which consumes 40% of the world’s ivory (mostly for hanko, the seals Japanese use on documents instead of signing), with its customary reluctance on matters affecting the environment, and apparently under intense international pressure, announced that it would ban all worked ivory imports and would partially ban imports of raw ivory. And, at the same time, The Times announced under a bold heading ‘Jubilation As Hong Kong (the centre of the world’s ivory trade) Bans Ivory Imports’.
Most dramatically of all, Kenya’s President Moi arranged for the burning of 12 tons of ivory (worth £2.0 million) which had been confiscated from poachers during the last five years.
All seemed to be well. But then difficulties arose. Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa complained that their elephants were not in danger and that, in their countries, poaching was under control. The next step is to be the meeting in October 1989 of the 102 nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species which will have to wrestle further with the problem.
Meanwhile, Tanzania launched a nation-wide operation (Operation Uhai) to crack down on poaching and other acts of banditry. More than 400 suspects were arrested with 400 firearms and over 1,000 rounds of ammunition were confiscated in the initial stage of the operation